Sunday, January 8, 2012

More on the Future of D&D

Since having made my last post I have been doing some more reading on the subject of the future of D&D. The sources I was consulting included the blogs Bat in the Attic and OEF. Both authors refer to Ryan Dancey's recent rant about the coming doom of D&D and pen and paper gaming as a whole. For those of you who are not quite sure who Mr. Dancey is, he is/was a game designer and was, in fact, one of the designers who was involved in the complete overhaul that D&D received as it moved into its 4th edition, but more importantly Ryan is one of those who made playing D&D the way we do possible... he is on of the minds who was originally behind the Open Gaming Licence (OGL).

Before I get into the meat of this post, I need to say one thing. I am a fan of virtual table tops (VTTs) in table top role playing games (TRPGs). In quite a few of my earliest posts I talk up the merits of using VTTs in D&D. I have been using Fantasy Grounds for nearly two years with my group and we are quite pleased. Fantasy Grounds in conjunction with Skype has allowed us to keep playing even though we are separated by thousands of miles.

So, for a quick recap: either (according to Mr. Dancey) D&D and TRPGs generally are doomed, or (according to much of the blog traffic in the D&D Old School Renaissance (OSR) scene) the industry is changing and while it now provides few (and in the future, fewer) opportunities for large publishing houses to populate the market with their products, it does provide opportunities for almost anyone who has a great idea to get out there and to sell it to the gaming community.

I have to agree with the rest of "us" out there... sorry Ryan. This is a great time to be a D&D enthusiast. Digging into the past a bit we have to look at the OGL. According to Dancey:

"We wanted to ensure [the division of 2nd edition vs. 1st] did not repeat, by trying for an (unobtainable) goal of 100% conversion...The OGL was a big part of making that let hundreds of developers fill in the niches that Wizards didn't have the time or the inclination to do itself, including a lot of content desired by 1st and 2nd edition players."

This is the point at which the modern OSG movement first got going. Third party publishers happily seized the opportunity Wizards of the Coast had provided them. The market for new, old gaming products exploded. I remember getting back into D&D through 3rd edition in 2000. It was a great time to be rediscovering The Game. One of the publishers I got into at the time was Necromancer Games. The name says it all... their products brought a darker feel to the game. They had (and still have) some great products. I loved their goal of bringing a "1st Edition Feel" to 3rd edition gaming.

The movement continued to grow. According to Dancey :

"[3rd edition] was the most successful RPG published since the early years of 1st edition AD&D...It outsold the core books of 2nd edition AD&D by a wide margin. I attribute some of that success to the OGL and to the massive amount of player network support the OGL engendered."

Dancey cuts right to the core. It was the player support which made, and has made, 3rd edition a success. The Pathfinder TRPG has picked right up where D&D left off when it re-edition-ed D&D and 4th edition in 2008. Armed with blogs and high-speed internet we have taken control of our own D&D games. The days of TSR are over. The release of 4th edition D&D (a game I tried to love) splintered the D&D community. The community can now be reduced to a series of different mini communities all playing D&D their own way. House rules have come out of our cellars and are being published both on blogs and in actual manuals. Big publishing firms have lost control of The Game. It has become everybody's game. Even so, Pathfinder continues to be the D&D center of gravity. It is the most successful RPG on the market today. Basically D&D is not being sold as D&D anymore... amazing. The age of long tail economics in gaming is upon us, and I think it is great. Armed with the OGL, a huge file of PDFs and my gaming group I am nailing down my own version of D&D. It takes inspiration from every edition of the game as well as some other great D&D variants that have come my way, such as Conan d20 and Mike Mearls and Monte Cooke's alternate D&D series of products: Iron Heroes.

Now back to VTTs. Today the game may look differently when you see it played. e.g. I don't play in my parents basement anymore, now I play in my living room; we leave our books behind and bring our laptops (for easy access to our PDFs of the rules), etc. So now I use Fantasy Grounds and it is great. My group should start playing again in a few weeks. We have had a 6 month sabbatical because of a work conflict. We are going to follow in Zak's footsteps and try out G+ and join the ConstantCon rather than using Skype. We will probably also be running Twiddla allowing party members to quickly scratch out maps and whatever else they may need. We will still be using Fantasy Grounds, it is great for running battles and mapping in Fantasy Grounds makes running combats easy.

Joesky's Tithe: Actions in Action

After having played D&D for years I have often found it hard to nail down exactly what I could or could not do (as a player) or allow my players to do (as a Dungeon Master) in a round. Until 3rd edition I never really knew exactly what I was allowed. In 3rd edition I finally got some clarification, but it was a bit wordy and convoluted. 4th edition, in its drive to be a "DM-less game" nailed it down and they did a great job (it's one of the handful of things they got right). I am going to be going with a very 4e-esque method for categorizing actions in my D&D Mashup:

Move Action: This includes any sort of movement. It can be running, swimming, etc. Move actions typically draw attacks of opportunity, but they do not when a character takes only a "free" 5-foot step. 5 feet typically equals one square on maps used for running encounters. Each character gets one move action per round.
Standard Action: Typically involves a large amount of effort or concentration. Attacking with a weapon or casting a spell are typical standard actions. Each character gets one standard action per round.
Minor Action: Drinking a potion or drawing a weapon are minor actions. Minor actions involve limited amounts of concentration to be done well. Each character gets one minor action per round.
Free Action: Yelling to an ally is an example of a typical free action. A character may have many free actions in a round.
Interrupt: An immediate interrupt occurs when one of the above actions occurs out of sequence; e.g. waiting for a trigger before executing a declared action. These can be immediate interruptions or as reactions to actions that occur during combat. The amount of interrupts that a character may have is dependent upon the situation.

More Rules:
1. A round (not a turn!) is 6 seconds long. 10 rounds equal a minute.
2. Many effects will last until then end of an encounter; e.g. counting rounds to see how long a Bless spell lasts is no longer be necessary. Another rules innovation from 4e (though I have been doing this for years; as a DM I would rather concentrate on keeping the fight interesting for the PCs rather than counting down how much time a spell still has in play; furthermore I have found, over the years, that most of the time spells stay in play for whole encounters, so this is pretty much a moot point). 

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