Friday, February 29, 2008

Countdown to More Mayhem: Sneak Peak #3


Definition: [n] a notable achievement; "he performed a great deed"; "the book was her finest effort"
Synonyms: deed, effort, exploit

Yeah, it's been 8 years since you incorporated that word to your Dungeons and Dragons game, and it spread out to many other OGL games, more than 50% of the whole d20 material in the world contains a chapter or section dedicated to Feats. Hell, there's even whole books with only feats.

These cannot be classified as the equivalent of advantages or qualities in other RPGs, as the definition implies these are sometimes mind-boggling, rule-bending, argument fodder abilities that in the right hands can build the perfect character or wreak havoc and despair around a gaming table. In some games you can guess or identify what will be the new advantages or qualities that will show up in the next book, you just see what hasn't been covered yet. However, d20 has reached a different scope, you can never expect what possibilities a new book might bring with its feat variety, some times it's even scary.

Well, Even More Magic & Mayhem... Let's begin with that "Even More", you bet it's more! In fact this book has so many new options and varieties that any pathological rules addicted scavenger will feel satisfied. So you can understand what I mean here is some of the feats you will see in EMM&M:

Amplify Curse, Cold-blooded Killer, Dual Blessings, Gouge, Hamstring, Improved Industrious Haste, Improved Tricks, Judgement, Moonkin Form, Runic Engineer, Shred.

And these are just the names, some will stare in awe, some won't see what the words actually mean. What you need to know is this... There are MORE. And you won't be disappointed.
Even More Magic and Mayhem is due before June 2008. And when I say before it can be in May or three weeks from now. Who knows? Like feats, expect the unexpected.

P.S. funny WotC chose this word... "synonim: exploit". Naaaah....

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dark Factions Cover and new release

It can't be more official than that. White Wolf's Online Store and have links for pre-ordering Dark Factions.

The coolest thing is the possible release date which is stated in both sites. April 16th 2008. If it really does happen, it's going to be 3 days after my birthdate, which is awesome. The cover looks extremelly evil, thanks to Samwise Didier's spectacular job. So don't waste anymore time to check out the cover image and pre-order yours or guarantee its acquirement by your local gaming store now!

Amazon's product link
White Wolf's product link

Once the book is released in DriveThruRPG I'll add a link to the left column.

In other news, I'm currently past half of Chapter 3 in the layout process of Even More Magic and Mayhem. Expect later this week a new sneak peak.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

On The Question of Balance

In all games it comes up. Sooner or later you crack open a book, look over a character sheet or simply come across it in-game. Then, arguments ensue, game mechanics are changed, forum posts are made, it gets debated some more and the universe itself shifts. I speak to you of balance.

What is balance in a game where competition between players is theoretically non-existent? Where the idea is to be challenged by a person that essentially has a god like will over the game? Ultimately the answer is a balance of ego's. The ego of the DM and the ego of the players. The GM wants to believe his skill with the system and his knowledge is enough to provide a fun challenge while telling a good story. Players want to believe they provide a good believable character that will deal with the challenges in a heroic fashion. That's how it is in a perfect world.

Sadly, the world is far from perfect. GM's are normally far from skilled enough to stop a well focused player from exploiting one mechanic or another. And players are normally far from sensible enough to restrain themselves. They don't simply want to be heroic, they want to be antagonists themselves. They want to challenge the GM, to write a character and say "I dare you, mere mortal, to put an obstacle in my path I cannot crush within the laws and realities of this petty imaginary world! *cue lightning and thunder followed by maniacal laughter*"

Thus, competition ensues, often unconsciously, and one or more mechanic is changed for the sake of balance. Balance is a funny word to apply to a game that has no distinct rewards for defeating your fellow players. But, human ego is fragile, and no one likes to feel useless. And on the same end there's the desire to go above and beyond your fellow players ad take the spotlight whenever and however one can.

So,I guess the ability to change people is still beyond the limits of your average GM or player. Perhaps for the best. Still, how does one determine whats balanced? At what point is the fragile line from "powerful" and "broken" crossed into a tear jerking, argument inducing pain in the butt?

Well, it all starts when a group of writers sits around a table (a process I'm slowly becoming more and more familiar with) and decides on mechanics to the content of the book. A good portion of the time the crunch(mechanical content) is there to simply full holes and give some neat options for the players. The trouble begins when new mechanics or new twists on old mechanics are brought to the table. I've had the fortune of working with some very intelligent writers on EMM&M and we've done a relatively good job of keeping our mechanics in line. And even now as the fan book is on the verge of being released we still have the occasional thought or debate on how one or more mechanic we've introduced will affect the game. Even now we still discuss it. It's in this relatively chaotic process that sometimes a small detail or another gets by. Sometimes it's a small typo that seems almost insignificant turns into a massive explosion in game. This happens the most rarely, but, is the most commonly blamed.

The second cause of imbalance is misinterpretation. It's generally the plague of newness. New GM's, new players, new mechanics, all these things have a habit of misinterpreting something into something that is not. Sometimes, the easiest solution is education, other players, a rereading, or the rare case of clairfying errata is all it takes. Deliberate misinterpretation is rare but it does happen. In those cases the offender is quick to change his ways when he's caught red handed.

The third and final cause of imbalance is rules lawyering for the purposes of getting the upper hand. These people will twink, min-max, power game, and nitpick there way to glory and massive GM headaches. It's been said on the DnD official forums that with enough supplements one can do anything. This statement has proven itself true time and time again regardless of game. In other words: the more content you introduce the more chance their is that some combination of that content will create imbalance. As a GM, I both love and loathe these people. They're the ones that force me to get creative. They're the ones that make me consider all possibilities in an encounter and to decide how my NPC's should level and build. They're also the ones that give me a massive migraine.

Why should it you ask? Well, for the sake of the other players who for one reason or another either cannot accomplish the same level of power gaming or simply refuse to. And when one character or another simply overpowers the others a few things tend to happen. First, they tend to look to that character for leadership. After all he who is most effective likely has the better decision making capabilities. Second, the other players tend to get lazier and more distracted. Why should they spend more effort then necessary working together when Timmy has all the answers and all the muscle to accomplish the tasks? Ultimately, you're forced to balance encounters around that one player, either nullifying them and forcing the other players to act or increasing the difficulty of the encounters so the other players must act as support or the group as a whole falls rather quickly. Of course this creates resentment, the GM gets blamed, arguments about balance ensue and the circle of life moves on.

The results of this complaining often lead to changes to the game, which leads to more arguments, etc. etc. A lot of games get torn apart due to these things. But, is that the fault of the game and its writers? Or, rather, the fault of the players who use the rule set? Ultimately, I feel it's the fault of all involved. The writers are only human and can't be expected to catch every little thing that goes by. But, when that does happen they need to be prepared to fix it in some manner. DnD has been real good about this and individual fans and writers for WoW:RPG have been good about releasing errata when needed in order to answer the many problems that arise when new controversial content is released. White Wolf, on the other hand, has a very poor history of releasing errata. But, I suppose this is the difference in gaming philosophy between the two games. Storyteller games place a lot of power in the players and storytellers, therefore, it is their responsibility for maintaining balance. The rules themselves are merely guidelines. Unlike DnD and consequently WoW: RPG which has hard fast rules for practically everything.

On the player side of things it's really more about shutting up and enjoying the game. If there's a problem, fix it, and move on. If a player has a problem with a GM ruling, he's the GM get over it or leave. After all the goal is to have fun, not nitpick, not argue, not rules lawyer. Writers tend to be rules lawyers because that's their job description. Players are defined as having fun. So, leave the rules mongering and "balance" to those who get paid. I just wanna play.

New Wondrous Item - The Hand of Midhas

Speaking of gold and speaking of Dark Factions, here's a little freebie for all the DotA enthusiastics. However, you'll only be able to use it once the famous "Independent Player's Guide" is released. Just another thing to make you consider getting it in July.

The Hand of Midhas

Midhas Eagersome was a renown alchemist goblin, no one has ever known how was he able to finance all his chemical engineerings. Over the course of 20 years, he achieved the record mark of mixing over 250,000 magical potions. Some say he would have worked nonstop. Some truly believe he created a device or a magical item capable of funding his experiments. Either way, that still had meant 34 potions a day and required huge amounts of gold. Funny that even with an huge and unknow source of gold he didn't have that many enemies... Go figure.

The Hand of Midhas is a metallic golden glove, once per day thewearer of the glove can transmute any living creature into gold by simply touching them. When touched the target is affected by the Flesh to Gold spell.
Strong Transmutation; CL 13th; Craft Woundrous Item, Flesh to Gold*; Price 23,100; 11,550 Cost + 924 XP

*Flesh to Gold is described in Dark Factions: Chapter 4.

I came up with this idea of doing this item a long time ago but was never able to recreate it with a spell such as polymorph any object or anything less than a wish. Thanks to Dark Factions now it's possible. Next week, a brand new sneak peak of Even More Magic & Mayhem which is moving towards its completition.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Countdown to More Mayhem: Sneak Peak #2

After mentioning the new optional mana point system (Thanks to a post at the forums) in this blog with the intention of clarifying a specific rule. It's time to yet another preview of Even More Magic & Mayhem, the not-so-official-but-almost-there sourcebook that is being created by our Dream Team.

Once again this was prompted thanks to a post concerning the Trade Skills. This optional rule never made it to the corebook but it was supposed to be there in the first place. How does one use Trade Skills in the MMO?

You gather and create. Those two concepts are tied together in a single skill in the RPG and each kind of Trade Skill will grant you synergy bonuses to certain tasks and the best of all: IT WILL GRANT YOU GOLD!! The Trade Skills list is also enhanced with new ones and includes Jewelcrafting!

Having a profession never made you happier in a D&D game, now you have a reason to be proud of it. Stop earning copper and be a trader!

More Magic and Mayhem
is scheduled to be released sometime before Dark Factions, so stay tuned.

Friday, February 15, 2008

WoW vs. WoW:RPG

When one runs into a D&D or Vampire based video game one can usually find a book at their local gaming store on the same regions and peoples that video game is based upon this conversion from table top to electronic format is practically traditional and in many cases is the first experience anyone has with a table top game.

In my case the first experience I had with table tops was through the Pool of Radiance game on my dad’s old commodore 64. Some years later I'm in a comic book store rolling a Barbarian.

I'm sure similar patterns have repeated themselves over and over again every time such a game comes out. Can you imagine how many people started playing D&D when Never Winter Nights came out? Imagine there surprise when they found out D&D doesn't actually have a point system that pushes your alignment one way or another.

In any case Warcraft is unique in that it doesn't base itself off a tabletop. Rather, it is a tabletop based off a videogame. This in and of itself creates some unique problems. Particularly when one must work with a company as tight lipped as Blizzard.

The first problem one has to deal with is translating a video game into a table-top, and not just any table top, but one that has been hailed and recognized before the concept of Night Elves was dancing nakedly in the back of someone’s head (purple elves? hawt!). This creates some challenges that the writers have proudly faced in WoW:RPG and its Predecessor Warcraft: The Role Playing Game. After all while videogames take their basic game mechanics from the tabletop itself the writers are forced to handle the ever changing philosophy of blizzards developers regarding the game while still keeping to their own format. Thankfully d20 is adaptable enough that no matter what direction blizz decides to go with the game the writers will always be able to keep up mechanically. But then, we get into lore....

Blizzard loves to retcon so much that it gave players an instance in which they can retcon time itself at the behest of times lords and masters. This is easy for them, after all they own the property and retconning is as easy as making a few code changes and releasing another patch. For the writers, retconning isn't really an option, once a book is out: it's out. The writer of those oh so popular Drizzt novels may have decided midway through the series that a Star Elf might have made a more popular choice then the now cliché drow (by the way if anyone ever pick up the new Drow book I recommend it, it gives them their balls back). But, because he can't simply grab every book in the world and rewrite history he has to stick to his guns and keep Drizzt a drow.

In blizzards case they've had a very hard time deciding just where their characters stand. Garona for example was a half human half orc. Then by Warcraft 2 one of her parents was Draeni. There was only one variety of troll, now there's five. All in all Blizzard loves to implement new ideas with the exuberance of a new GM constantly adding new details to his world despite already laid foundations from earlier in his campaign. That’s great for them but bad for the RPG.

If we sit down and think about all the stuff released, particularly about content which hasn't been released yet, then there’s a huge margin for error, and it already shows. How? Just look at Lands of Mystery, particularly the section on Northrend, then go to the World of Warcraft website and check out Wrath of The Lich King. See some problems? Already a lot of the preconceptions and lore given out in Lands of Mystery is being proven as not what Blizzard intended.

So, what are the repercussions of this on the line? Well, it hurts. New players will pick up the book, find the differences, and not buy it. After all, the book is called World of Warcraft. Automatically that associates it with the videogame, and automatically that gives the impression that the content and lore of the book will be identical if not more then what the game provides. But, if there are contradictions and errors in the book in comparison then it's not World of Warcraft. Thus, the prospective buyer won't spend the time, let alone the money on it. I don't think it takes an economics class to spell out what that means for the line. No money = no new books.

Unfortunately the eventual opening up of blizzard to the people who have the license to write these games is out of ours, the fans, hands. Blizzard isn't going to change it's tight lipped policy, and the writers and developers still need to eat, so sooner or later something is going to have to give and either the line will die out or simply go in a completely different direction.

But, that doesn't help us. So what are we to do? IF you don't play WoW online and are happy with the books, then good for you have nothing to worry about or think about until some player that does comes in and points out the inconsistencies. But, for the rest of us there are only two real solutions. The first is simply roll with the punches and retcon campaigns as easily as blizzard retcons itself. This has problems, but for those that want to maintain consistency that’s the best solution. The other solution, and the best in my opinion, is simply ignoring the inconsistencies if they're already in your game. Simply put your game is simply that: yours. So what if blizzard decides that Blood Elves now serve the Naaru? That’s fine, move on and continue having your Bloodknight BBEG give your ally players a hard time. Thrall assassinated? Who cares? In other words D&D is your game, your rules, the writers might have contract obligations, but you don't nor should you. So, go forth, have fun and decide how Your World of Warcraft should be run.