D&D 5E PHB: Through Chapter 2

I told myself I wouldn’t purchase D&D 5E. I did. The price tag was a bit steep, and I wanted to believe I was done with D&D. It brought me into the hobby, but my interest in it had waned. But I bought the PHB anyway. What I’m about to present here are my thoughts and impressions as I read through the first part of the book. If you want more in-depth analysis, you should read Rob Donoghue’s posts over at his blog. In general, this is a good book and an easy read. I have a hard time reading through RPG books at times, but this one has been fun to read/skim.

Preface

I’ve been known to skip prefaces in books, but I’m glad I didn’t skip this one. Mike Mearls kicks things off, and I can’t imagine a better way to do it. His words are evocative, and they speak to the heart of a gamer (or at least this one). By the end of it, I thought, “Yes. THIS. This is what D&D is about.”

Introduction

The Introduction is good, covering the basics of roleplaying well. It flows well and gives information without being overwhelming. I’m happy to see percentile dice return, even though I can’t quite express why. I have no idea what they’ll be used for, but that’s okay. The inclusion of 1d2 and 1d3 is odd, and I’m not sure how I feel about them. I mean, 1d2 is a coin flip. Why not make it a coin flip? Advantage and disadvantage is amazing, and not just because I love the mechanic in 4e as part of the Avenger’s shtick. It’s intuitive, it doesn’t slow down the flow of things at the table, and it nicely solves a lot of the problems I saw with the +2 bonus from 3e days (deflection, untyped, sacred, profane, ugh). The rounding down section makes sense, until I get to the part about dividing. What in the world will we be dividing? Cover? I’ll have to wait and see, but I’m not feeling good about division. Rounding down is fine, although I seem to recall it saying earlier in the text to round up for some things, although my memory fails me on where it said that. The three pillars is a great breakdown, and I’m sure each group will have its own unique balance of them. I’m somewhat skeptical about how the rules will support each of these, but I’m hopeful.

Chapter 1: Character Creation Overview

You know some of what to expect here, especially if you’ve been looking at the previews coming out, so the best way I know to do this is a bulleted list of my impressions.

  • I know using the word race is a tradition, and species doesn’t sound like a fantasy game, but I’m onboard with the people calling for using something like kith or similar for this.
  • Charisma now intentionally does not mention physical attractiveness. YES! Thank you, Wizards of the Coast! Also, the three characteristics mentioned (confidence, eloquence, and leadership) are excellent and evocative. +1, Favorite, or whatever social media thing the kids are doing now.
  • Yay for no negative stats! Another piece of 4e brought forward. I’m a big fan.
  • Proficiency bonus appears to be a simplification to mechanics from 3e for things like attack rolls, saving throws, and the like. I approve.
  • Using an iconic character like Bruenor from Forgotten Realms as the example character is a great idea. I notice this carries through in several places with other characters, too. Good stuff.
  • Inclusion of three different ways to roll stats. Default is standard array, which has changed from before.
  • 4d6 drop lowest is second method. (Secret: I like 4d6 drop lowest).
  • Third way is point buy, with 27 points as the standard. Interesting. I’m not sure if the price-per-point has changed, but it seems like it might have. Someone else will have to weigh in.
  • The tiers of play are interesting. Four tiers with differing numbers of levels in them. Different experience point differentials between them.

Chapter 2: Races

This chapter is one page of explanation and introduction to the races, then a write-up for each race. To be fair, I skimmed some of the race entries, so what I mention here won’t be exhaustive (but that’s been true of this whole post).

The concept of a subrace returns in 5E, and I’m glad for it. It provides some interesting differentiation, although I think they missed out terribly by not making different human cultures into subraces. The mechanics would support it. A really big missed opportunity there. Also, they chose to go with naming Forgotten Realms cultures in that section. I know it’s the most popular setting, but they could have branched out and included more (since they reference other campaign settings in the other race write-ups).

Each race has a nice set of what I’ll call aspects. For example, the dwarves have Long Memory, Long Grudges. Each of these is pretty evocative (at least for the ones I read in depth), and they’re a nice way to do things. Kudos to whoever came up with that.

Another thing I wasn’t really pleased with is the inclusion of the Drow as a subrace (and including Drizz’t as the image for the Elf? Not the best option). It’s a bit of a sticking point for me, but it doesn’t make sense to include them as a subrace and say that they’re evil except for one example. Better to leave them out, although I know this would anger people too. You’re not going to be able to please both sides on them, and even though I understand they’re one of the traditional D&D races, it just felt weird to have them here.

Dragonborn return from 4E as a core race, which I’m ambivalent about, honestly. I like the nod to the Dragonlance draconians as dragonborn by another name. Very cool, that.

I understand including the Svirfneblin (Deep Gnomes) as a sidebar, but it would have been cool to see them get a full subrace section. We’ve already broken symmetry by having three elven subraces. I’d keep the broken symmetry, but take out the Drow and put in the Svirfneblin.

I love half-elves and always have. That is all.

More goodness and progressive thought from Wizards: the half-orc rape narrative is gone! YES. There’s still the evil-by-nature thing, but I can live with that.

Sigh. The tiefling. I’ll let you in on something that’s not really a secret: I’m not fond of tieflings. Don’t get me wrong; I like them okay in their 4E incarnation (which is what we’ve got here in 5E). I just miss the Planescape tiefling that had you roll a percentile die for what expression of your heritage you got. Think a random table full of tails, wings, and other infernal vestiges. There’s also the point that I love Aasimar, and I wish they got at least as much love and attention as the tiefling. I could say more, but I’d quickly get off track. Ask me on twitter or G+ if you want to know more.

So there you have it, my initial thoughts as I got through the first 2 chapters. I was initially going to include the next chapter, Classes, but I’ve already hit 1200 words.

Let me close with a few thoughts. I’ve heard others say it, but I’ll add my voice to the chorus. This feels like D&D. I like what I’m seeing; I’ll have to find an opportunity to play it, both as a player and a DM. The art is probably the most inclusive I’ve seen in D&D, with brown-skinned folks and women in reasonable armor galore. Also, different body types! Well done.

I’m sure I’ve missed some things I actually thought while reading, but this hits enough of them that you should have a good impression of my opinion. There’s a lot to like and a few things I would have done differently.

 

Icons of Planescape: The Dreamer

Planescape_Logo

Note: Planescape is the intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast and should be treated as such.

The Dreamer

Quote

“~Whispers, dreams, and prophecies.. Who can tell which is which?~” – The Dreamer

Usual Location

The Dreamer wanders wherever they will, through the places where others lose their way, but they always return to a misty fortress that drifts through the plane of Dreams.

Common Knowledge

It’s only recently that cutters have started seeing the Dreamer wandering. They’ve been seen deep in Arborea and swimming through the Elemental Plane of Water. There’s even a rumor that the Dreamer has been spotted in the Mazes.

The Dreamer helps those who have become lost, leading them safely back to more familiar territory. The price you pay for their help is a prophecy whispered to you.

Adventurers and the Icon

It’s easy to get lost on the Planes, and the Dreamer is a welcome sight in those times. Many an adventurer has a tale to tell of how they’d become lost as a Clueless and lived because of the Dreamer showing up.

Allies

The Dreamer gets along with almost everyone, although his finding and saving of the lost is irritating to many of the other Icons.

Enemies

The Dreamer hasn’t made any enemies (yet).

History

The Dreamer and their dream palace came into being after a coven of Night Hags managed to stop every mortal dreaming across the Prime Material for a period of 7 peak-to-peak cycles of Sigil. A combined army of celestials, guardinals, and eladrin managed to destroy the Night Hags and restore the ability of mortals to dream.

The Dreamer doesn’t know this history, but it’s not hard to find out what happened from any number of extraplanar sources.

The True Danger

The Dreamer seeks for someone thought forever lost. When the Dreamer finds them, no one will ever be lost again.

 

Icons of Planescape: The Lady of Pain

Planescape_Logo

Two things led to this post. The first is that I’ve been thinking about Planescape again. The second is this post from Quinn Murphy. Planescape and the Lady of Pain are the intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast and should be treated as such.

The Lady of Pain

Quote

“The Lady does not speak, but if she did, you wouldn’t much like want she’d have to say.” -rough translation from a random dabus

Usual Location

You might see the Lady of Pain anywhere in Sigil, but sightings are rare and usually short-lived. Regardless of whether she is physically present, all denizens of the Cage feel her presence regularly.

Common Knowledge

The Lady of Pain is the ruler of Sigil, twice over. She ousted Aoskar during her original rise to power, and she threw the factions out for daring to depose her. She allows no powers within Sigil, and it is said she can never leave. Her dabus go about the city, changing its configuration with a purpose known only to the Lady.

Adventurers and the Icon

Any attempt to change the status-quo in the Cage has the potential to attract the Lady’s attention. Since adventurers are prone to shake up the status-quo, encountering the Lady within Sigil is an ever-present danger. Attempting to prevent a dabus from their task and overt displays of divine might are also provocations.

Allies

The Lady of Pain has no true allies, but all the Icons have had dealings with her.

Enemies

Likewise, the Lady has many enemies, but they work in secret. Each other Icon has a reason to dislike the Lady, even the Peacemaker.

History

The truth of the Lady of Pain’s history (and her truename) is unknown by all but Aoskar, the dead god whose body floats on the Astral.

The True Danger

The Lady of Pain will recover her truename and leave the Cage. The planes of existence will be forever changed, if they survive.

Protagonists and Morality

I recently started watching House of Cards on Netflix. I’m three episodes in, and it made me think about a topic that influences what media I consume. Most of the time I don’t even realize I’m making a decision based on this preference, but it’s easy enough for me to elucidate.

I have to have someone to root for.

In most cases, the protagonist is the hero, the one we’re supposed to identify with. They’re the protag because theirs is the story we care about. For me, the protag has to function according to some kind of morality. There’s a trend in media to have every character and every decision merely reflect a “everything is shades of gray; there is no good or evil” mentality. I really don’t like this. It’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen not to watch Breaking Bad, except for the first episode, which I didn’t finish. My wife and I even stopped watching a season of Hell’s Kitchen because we just couldn’t stand any of the contestants.

Some might argue that I’m wanting things to be simple. Far from it! I like flawed characters. I can appreciate situations that are messy and don’t appear to have a good moral solution to them. I just require that there be some kind of underlying morality, even if it doesn’t match mine. Even if it doesn’t present itself as an epic good-and-evil struggle.

BeHeroesI’ve been a bit negative, so let me share something cool that does it right, in my opinion. Kingdom Come is a graphic novel from DC (I know, I know) from several years ago. In it, we find ourselves in a future where anti-heroes and vigilantes are warring in the streets without any regard for the safety of non-supers. The iconic DC heroes we know are absent, but as the story progresses, they return, led by everyone’s favorite paragon, Superman.

It’s got moral ambiguity, but it deals with good and evil, tough choices, and the nature of heroism.

Am I the only one that has trouble with this? Leave a comment and tell me about a story, a movie, a TV show, that you love that has morality and complexity.

 

 

 

On Max Temkin

Content warning: This post deals with the topic of sexual violence.

The gaming community is one that I’m usually proud to be a part of. It is a collection of amazing human beings, ones that I’m proud to know and call friends and colleagues.

But then there are other things like this: http://www.donotlink.com/ocd. The gist is that eight years ago, Max Temkin–one of the guys responsible for Cards against Humanity–sexually assaulted a woman while they were both in college. She has recently come forward. His response at the link above is an exemplar of how not to respond to something like this.

Now, normally I wouldn’t get into this kind of topic here on my blog, but I’m speaking now because this is an important issue. As a man, I feel like this is something that we’ve screwed up. As a Christian, I feel like this is something we’ve gotten wrong. I don’t have the time or the patience to get into the topic of consent here, but let me go on the record that it’s vital, it’s important, and it’s something we should be discussing. I’ve got more to say about this, but you’ll have to find me in person to discuss it further.

I know some of you may be thinking, “It’s an accusation. Shouldn’t we give benefit of the doubt? Innocent until proven guilty and all that?”

No. No, we shouldn’t. We have a woman that is standing up and saying she was raped. We should give her the benefit of the doubt. If (a big if) we’re wrong, then no lasting harm is done to this man, regardless of what the media may have led you to believe. If he did, then it’s important that we’ve shown solidarity with the victim of one of the most heinous acts we as humans are capable of.

To Max Temkin I say, “Confess and deal with the consequences of your actions.

To the woman he harmed I say, “I stand with you, although I do not know you and you don’t know me.

To our community I say, “Stop responding to these kinds of things with apathy, victim-blaming, or rationalizations. Just stop. Do the right thing.

What Do I Do With This Feedback?

The topic today comes from Mark (@slavetothehat), friend, fellow game designer, and cartographer par excellence.

You’ve written a thing, and you’ve sent it to your editor on a wing and a prayer. Now it has returned to you. It stares at you in your inbox. Is that growling you hear?

You open it, and the flood of red ink threatens to drown you in its crimson embrace. Oh god, what have I done? How shall I press on?Step 4: Do It

Step 1: Breathe

Seriously, take a moment. Breathe. Relax a bit. Remember that you hired your editor to help you. To polish your words. To sharpen them to a razor’s edge. Sharpening and polishing aren’t pleasant experiences. There’s heat, friction, and maybe even a little pain. It’s okay; this is part of the process.

You’re probably dealing with a lot of emotions. Those emotions should let you know that this is a thing you care about (it is, right?). It’s a sign that you’re doing what you set out to do. You had an idea. You wrote it down. This is someone telling you how to make sure it looks, sounds, smells, feels the way you intend. That’s good, right?

Step 2: Read the Comments

See what I did there? Now that you’re hopefully calm and have your emotions under control, read through the feedback. Most editors I know (myself included) give you a summary of what they thought of the manuscript. Use this as context, and then read through the manuscript. Don’t worry about what you said wrong. Look at why how you said it wasn’t as good as it could have been. There may be things that you disagree with your editor on. That’s fine. Mark it down as something to discuss with your editor later. We’re not word tyrants or grammar nazis. We’re guides, having a conversation with you about your manuscript. You may need to take breaks while you’re working through this. That’s sometimes necessary.

Step 3: Think and Make a Plan

Don’t just wade into the next draft. Take time to think about what your editor said. You may need to figure out a new approach. Some manuscripts may require a restructure. Step 4: Do ItMake a plan (even if it’s just a mental one) of how you’re going to revise this thing that you’ve put work into and that now needs refinement.

Step 4: Do It

You’ve got a plan. Execute it. Do the second draft. Simple as that.

 

I know it was hard to hear some of this, but I still love you, and your manuscript will be the better for it. Now get out there and write, revise!

Think I’m barmy or want to stroke my ego? Tweet at me. Send me an email, leave a comment, ask a question via email. You know where to find me.

 

Sections and Subsections

Today’s topic comes from Christopher (@EldritchFire on Twitter), one of my favorite clients.

One of the things an editor does is assess a manuscript’s structure. Today I want to talk about sections. You know, those things that break up the wall of text that you’ve managed to carve out of your brain and put on the page? You need to be able to break that wall of text up into manageable chunks.

There are a couple of ways to do this. If you’re the outlining sort, the outline should have given you enough structure that you can start with it. If you’re not the outlining type, you have a little more work to do. Regardless, you’ve expressed those ideas in words. Words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, right?

A section should be one or more paragraphs. Ideally, you should be able to read a section and get a complete idea out of it. It may depend on other concepts, but it should stand alone. For example, most RPG books have a Skills section. That section better have everything in it that I need to know about Skills. (Choosing good titles is a separate topic. If there’s interest, I can do that post later.) I should be able to read that section by itself and not feel like I’m missing a whole lot when it comes to Skills.

Knowing when to divide into sub-sections is a bit trickier, but the concept still stands. Keeping with our example, if I’m in the Skills section, and there is a way to categorize skills into sub-groups (like Combat and Social), then those can be subheadings if you as the author want them. I can’t give you a hard line here because so much of it depends on how much content each subheading would have. A good rule of thumb I’d use is whether the words you want to turn into a subheading take more than a paragraph to describe, make it a subheading.

Now, this rule of thumb might break down if you have a complicated hierarchy of topics that take multiple paragraphs to describe. Once you get past three to four levels deep, it’s a good idea to step back from the manuscript and see if you can refactor the structure. Honestly, if you’re that deep, I’m going to suspect (both as a reader and an editor) that you’re padding word count or having trouble getting the concept across.

Honestly, some of this comes from experience in writing and conveying ideas. A good editor should be helping you gain that experience as they work with you on a manuscript, showing you its flaw and its strengths. Over time, you should learn how to convey a thought and use the structure of the document to help you trickle your ideas into the brains of your readers.

Oh, one last tip. Look for documents that have a structure similar to what you’re doing, or that you like. See how they broke down their concepts and how it flows. Pick a section and see if it follows what I’ve said above. It’s not necessarily a bad document if it doesn’t, but you should be able to see what they did and hopefully gain an appreciation for why they did it a certain way.

If you’re still got questions, leave a comment, and I’ll see if I can answer it. Now sit down and write!

 

Feedback Hurts Sometimes

Today I want to talk about feedback. You know, when you’re designing something and you get other people to play it and tell you what they thought?

Terrifying.

Saturday night, I ran the first playtest of Iron Edda: Memories of Metal and Bone. The players were fantastic, and great fun was had by all. I had spent quite a bit of time trying to craft pre-generated PCs that were diverse and had skills that would apply in a variety of situations. I nailed that part. I went in with no prep, and the system worked well (which isn’t surprising, considering it’s Lady Blackbird and Always/Never/Now).

There was a major problem, though. It wasn’t an Iron Edda game. There wasn’t anything that made it really stand out in that regard. What is a designer to do? Making an Iron Edda game in another system was pretty much the whole point.

Write it Down

Take the feedback and write it down. It might be hard due to emotions, but do it anyway. You need to get it down because our memories (see what I did there) aren’t as clear as we’d like them to be. Mine in particular are not that great when complicated by emotion.

Let it Simmer

After the playtest, take some time and do something else. Then come back to what you wrote down. You need that distance to come back in with a fresh perspective. If the emotions are still raw, take more time.

Prioritize

Take the negative feedback and prioritize it. For me, top priority is making the game feel like Iron Edda. First off, thanks to one of my player’s suggestions, I’m going back to the source material. I’m currently watching Vikings Season 1 and enjoying it quite a bit. That, coupled with another suggestion (find the themes you want the game to have) is giving me plenty of direction in what to do next.

 

Comparisons

The impetus for this post is a document I had the misfortune of seeing at work. There was a section that attempted to relate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to running a distributed software simulation.

Let’s talk about comparisons for a moment. There are several ways I can think of to express a comparisons: similes, metaphors, allegories, analogies. A good comparison is a thing of beauty. It’s elegant and conveys the author’s intent well. A bad comparison leaves the reader at best confused. There are a couple of things that you need to keep in mind if you want to craft a good comparison.

Points of Similarity and Difference

Every analogy breaks down at some point. You can’t map everything in an example from one to another (usually). Some of the most tragically humorous things I’ve read involve trying to find a one to one mapping from one thing to another. (Game designers take note, hacking a system can lead to this if you’re not careful. I’ve been guilty of it myself.) When you use an analogy, make sure you understand where these points of similarity and difference are. This is less of a concern with similes and metaphors, but it’s still possible to come up with weak writing due to carelessness. Taking the time to come up with a good comparison shows respect both to your idea and to your reader. A good simile is like a mental image; something that engages your reader’s mind immediately and intuitively. It puts you and your reader on the same page. Without that foundation, you’ll typically find that your readers lose track of what you’re saying.

Authorial Intent

Confession: I love this phrase. I probably love it a bit too much. It’s very important for me as an editor to know why the author uses the words they use. More importantly, it’s vital for you as a writer to know why you’re using the words you’re using. Comparisons are no different. Does the complexity of the topic warrant a comparison of some kind? Are you just trying to whip out your massive vocabulary and impress the reader with it? The former is a good reason; the latter a poor one. Your primary intent should be to communicate effectively. That’s why you’re writing, right? To convey your opinion, your thought, your concept. To spread an idea like wildfire.

Allons-y! Onward, but wield your words responsibly.