God, has it been *that* long since I posted anything here?
My 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.
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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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...
...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.
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.
NOTE: This is a brain dump. I admit I don't have all the final details on this.
Yesterday I had an idea for a new magic system, so I found myself writing up some of the basics at around 3am.
The reason for the new mechanism is the way that I see the current world of magic: there is little room for specialization. Let's say you want to become a pyromancer, someone who really likes lighting stuff on fire. You don't want to beat around the bush learning non-fire spells for the first several levels... You want to jump right in! "You want to be a pyromancer? Excellent! First you have to master ray of frost first!" ... Why would I want to do that?!? I want to light stuff on fire!!!
Furthermore, let's assume you do become a pyromancer of sorts. Over time your skill improves, but right now it's only shown in a handful of spells that involve fire and the only thing that increases in those spell is the number of dice you roll for damage. At high levels you should be able to control fire in any way you please, yet you are still bound by the spell list someone else defined for you.
So here's what I envisioned: let's say you want to be a true pyromancer. At 1st level, you immediately gain a modest fire attack that does 1d6 fire damage at range. As you gain levels or through alternate methods, you gain "spell points" (or "SP" for short) that allow you to enhance this basic attack or get other abilities. You can increase its intensity, turn it in to a burst attack, make it light things on fire, attack multiple targets, etc... etc...
So, for example, here's the basic options you can improve your basic attack with:
Effect: You gain a fire attack. The attack has a range of 50' and deals 1d6 fire damage for every intensity level when it hits. When you first choose this discipline you must choose whether the attack is a ranged touch attack or requires a Reflex save (DC 10 + Int modifier + 1/2 intensity)
Enhancement (Max 10): You increase the intensity of the fire attack by 1, up to a maximum of 10d6 damage.
Requirement: Fire Scholar 4
Effect: You can turn your fire attack into an area of effect attack. You can choose to reduce the attack's intensity by 1 to instead attack every creature within a 10' radius. A Reflex save (DC 10 + Int modifier + 1/2 intensity) negates the damage.
Enhancement (Max 5): For each enhancement level you can further increase the area of effect by another 10' and decrease the intensity of the attack by 1, up to a maximum of a 50' radius at the cost of 5 intensity levels.
Enhanced Fire Burst
Requirement: Fire Burst 3
Effect: Once per day, when you make a fire burst attack you can choose to have the attack deal half damage on a successful Reflex save (DC 10 + Int modifier + 1/2 intensity).
Enhancement (Maximum 5): For each enhancement level you gain one additional use of the enhanced fire burst attack per day.
Requirement: Fire Scholar 2
Effect: You can choose to reduce your fire attack's intensity by 1 in order to set the target on fire. On a successful hit the target gains the "burning" condition and takes an additional 1d6 fire damage at the start of each turn. The burning effect does not stack; if used on a target that is already burning it has no additional effect.
Requirement: Any Elemental Scholar 6
Effect: You can make your elemental attack against an additional target, distributing the intensity between them. Before making an attack, choose two targets and distirbute the total intensity level between them. The damage does not need to be distributed evenly.
Enhancement (Maximum 5): For each enhancement level you can attack one additional target, distributing the base attack's total intensity amongst all targets.
Long Range Casting
Requirement: Any Elemental Scholar 4
Effect: You can choose to reduce your elemental attack's intensity by 2 to double the range of the attack.
Requirement: Any Elemental Scholar 3
Effect: Once per hour, you can choose to reduce your elemental attack's intensity by 2 to increase either the attack roll or the save DC of the attack by 2.
Enhancement (Maximum 5): Fr each enhancement level you gain one additional use of precision casting every hour.
Each of these options will cost a certain amount of SPs.
Note something in the above: I don't specify what the fire attack actually is. It could be a bolt of fire, or it could be spontaneously generating a fire on the target, or it could be calling in to existence a large, flaming trout that slaps the target across the face. It doesn't matter what it is... mechanically, it all works the same.
This allows the player to describe how their fire ability manifests itself. So let's say you have an Intensity 3 Fire Burst 2 attack (3d6 fire damage to all targets within 20', 10 SP cost)... that's effectively the fireball spell. Or a flame strike. Or a really big flaming trout. How it looks visually is irrelevant and now up to the player's own creativity.
This also has an added benefit: the "spell points" reflect training, but leveling up need not be the only source of them. Let's say you find a really good arcane text in a dungeon, something that teaches you additional secrets on how to be an elemental caster. Studying that book at length can grant you 2 SPs, which you can immediately spend to improve your skill.
Also, the above allows you to either specialize as a "fire only" caster or make a highly diversified caster. At level 20 you can either be dealing a 10d6 fire attack (as an at-will, mind you) or you can spread out your SPs in pyromancy (fire), cryomancy (cold/water), storm mage (electricity/thunder), and others. Other disciplines could be necromancy or even straight up physical damage where your basic attack could be anything from magic missile to disintegrate.
I've been considering tying the above to a mana mechanism as well to limit the frequency that it can be cast. Like I said above, having a 10d6 fire attack that's an at-will could be pretty nasty... but is that really an issue? At 20th level a wizard is literally an arcane turret of destruction that could probably cast half a dozen 10d6 fireballs (maximized, even) on a whim.
I still need to figure out how to work in the non-escalating, non-damaging spells (things like charm person, sleep, etc.) or support spells (mage armor, shield, etc.) in to the above. I'm also considering upping the SP counts and gain per level so that a wizard can diversify more. For example, if they gain 4 SPs a level they can choose to gain 4 brand new weak spells or pile them all in to one discipline to really beef it up.
All this is in the works, rolling around in my head as I work on other projects. Maybe I'll write it up officially some day...
This past week has been... "interesting"... to say the least.
First of all, if you have yet to vote on the 2013 ENnie Awards I highly encourage you to do so. And, while you're at it, throw a vote or two for me and Darklight Interactive, who are nominated in two categories:
- Best Free Product: "A Night in Seyvoth Manor"
- Fan's Favorite Publisher: Darklight Interactive
So go and vote, will ya?
Secondly, in light of a lot going on in the RPG world this past month I have been actively trying to get involved as much as possible. I obviously can't go in to specifics on everything else I'm getting myself in to, but I can speak about what has just been announced: I am now a contributor to the Primeval Thule campaign setting currently running on Kickstarter.
This is a really cool opportunity that I couldn't resist getting involved with. Not only is it a great looking product, but it's involving a lot of people that I respect and would give a major appendage up to work with on anything: Rich Baker, David Noonan, Stephen Schubert, Ed Greenwood, Owen Stephens, Christopher West, Todd Lockwood, Jason Buhlman and others. Not to mention the recent additions of Mike "Sly Flourish" Shea and Scott "The Angry DM" Rehm.
This is also, arguably, the first time I participate in a project of this magnitude and scale where I'm not the only person working on it. So it's wild to think I'll be rubbing elbows with everyone involved, especially considering they all have a helluva lot more experience than I do in this sort of thing. I'm excited beyond description!
The project, admittedly, has a long ways to go still and very little time, so I ask you to drop whatever you're doing, head over to the Kickstarter page and help them out in any way possible.
Gosh, has it really been over three months since my last post?
Well, suffice to say that things have been somewhat hectic. I started a new job on April 1st and my work schedule has changed radically, so I usually get home extremely tired and not thinking about blogging. But I will hopefully get back to posting stuff soon once I get a little more available time.
But there's a big reason to celebrate! Darklight Interactive's A Night In Seyvoth Manor has been nominated in the "Best Free Product" category of the 2013 ENnie Awards!!! I admit I was counting the days 'til the nominations were released and was worried that I was building myself up for disappointment but, alas, there it is. So fingers crossed and let's see if we can win the thing, eh?
As for my development efforts, it's been somewhat of a mixed bag. I'd been working on Return of the Crystal Scion but I've become slightly disillusioned by it. As it stands now it has some areas that I'm rather proud of, but there are some monumental plot holes that I've been having a hard time filling. As a result, I have suspended further development on it. My intention is to take the larger parts of it - the Tomb of Iryk-Tep, the Sarafi tribe and their Caves of Wonder, The Obsidian Tower, etc. - and release those in some sort of side trek format. I also intend to release some parts that are simply too small for publication, such as my Sky Kraken creature for Pathfinder, here on this blog. So stay tuned for all that.
But recently I've been drawn back to my original campaign, The Coming Dark. I had already created it for D&D 4th Edition and it clocked in at close to 200 pages, but I now had issues with its initial design. You see, it was the first thing I'd ever done with D&D 4E - or with high end campaign design, for that matter - and it was somewhat "railroady". In a nutshell, I didn't like it one bit; I had a story in my head, but in my efforts to translate it to the game it just wasn't working.
So I've started a full redesign of it for use in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game system. I'm changing quite a lot of it, using the Pathfinder design style which allows me to be much more flexible in what I can do. I'm not bound by the 4E balance, or the 4E GSL for that matter. It will be distributed in three parts, each part containing three chapters (or acts... haven't decided). And I feel it's a lot, lot better now so we'll see how it goes.
I also have Revenge of the Kobolds still sitting on my hard drive waiting for me to do something with it. It still lacks art so I'm hesitant to publish it as is, but as days pass I'm getting tired of holding it back. One of these days I'll just say "the hell with it" and unleash it on the world... when that day comes, I hope you enjoy it.
Finally, I kinda said I wasn't going to do it but I'm creating another small adventure (5 encounters) for D&D 4th Edition called A Festival of Magic, which is a proposal I pitched to WotC but they apparently didn't like (they never answered me, but still). I'm going to do an experiment with this one: once I complete and release the 4E version my plan is to convert this to as many other systems as possible. Pathfinder... 13th Age... DCC... Dungeon World... AGE... etc... Figure it's worth a shot trying that once.
Anyway, I'm still around so hopefully I'll get back to posting often.