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A Change in Format

Posted in Indies & More

Time to play some catch up. Several weeks ago Mike talked about a change in his format for Legends & Lore into a This Week in D&D column. This may mean the end of Indies & More, but for now I’ll see if there’s still stuff that I can comment on.

With the new format come a variety of topics, so I’ll hit each of them:

The Case of the Mysterious Missing Rules

When the latest playtest packet came out I was interested in the mention of new exploration rules, but couldn’t find them. Turns out there’s a good reason for that: they weren’t there.

I’m actually super excited about these rules. They harken back to Moldvay (and earlier) rules for exploration where exploring was much like combat just at a different pace. They also apparently lead to the GM drawing more maps which is something I’m also fond of.

I do wonder about the community response, especially within the OSR. The player skill of mapping is an important aspect to some types of play, and these rules seem to assume DM mapping. I applaud this, not because it’s my favorite option of the two, but because it sounds like they’re taking a clear stand for which way they think works better with the new game instead of saying “this way, or the other very different way, whichever.”

In addition to Moldvay (and various retroclones) one of the most exciting takes on mapping I’ve seen is Dungeoneers and Dragonslayers’. While it’s still unreleased, D-ers&D-ers mapping works (as of the last time I had solid information on it) by having the players map. It was up to them to maintain a map, but it wasn’t just a test of their ability that led to confusion if they failed. The benefit of having a map is that you could travel to any mapped point without (some of) the dangers of travel. This, for me, entirely recasts player mapping. It adds a clear reason to map and a reason to do it well. It’s no longer just a communication game (“How Well Can You Understand Your GM?” coming this fall from Wizards of the Coast) but a reflection of what your characters are actually doing.

Barbarian Update

These particular updates are pretty unsurprising, standard developmental stuff. The interesting bit is that barbarians are still defined by rage.

This may be just because I’ve been grappling with a barbarian class for DW recently, but I’ve got strong feelings on rage as a barbarian ability. To me it feels very tactical—the barbarian is actually more tactical than the fighter. Playing the unleashed primal warrior means constantly doing the math on enemies around you to see if the benefits of rage are worth the downsides.

The related option, of rage being something beyond the player’s control, isn’t much more appetizing. Losing control of your character is never a great option.

The Next barbarian is a rager, and I’m not particularly a fan. The rage ability is coldly mathematical, a tradeoff that the player can make based on clear probabilities and possible outcomes. It’s very much the 3E barbarian with a light revision.

Practically, though, this may be the best option for their audience. While I find it cold, the greatest recent D&D sales have been of 3E with it’s raging barbarian. A large section of the audience started with 3E, for them a barbarian is rage.

Adventures

There’s a new D&D Next adventure. Cool!

I guess I could leave it there, but instead I’ll go to a related topic: I wish that D&D Next would rethink on a fundamental level what adventures look like. Or, really, I wish anybody would rethink adventures on a fundamental level.

Except for some changes in presentation and style, D&D adventures are fundamentally the same today as the first published adventures. While the amount of detail and background may have changed, adventures are still collections of locations containing things with some notes on how they might interact.

It seems like, over the years of gaming, we could have found something better. Unfortunately this is just a theory, as I don’t myself have a better way to do it. The Wizards’ team though, I bet they could seriously rethink what a D&D adventure means while still keeping the soul of it. A typical D&D adventure might still be a dungeon to explore, but how can we make that into a book in a better way?

I don’t know. Hopefully someone does. And hopefully it’ll happen in Next.

Orcs vs. Giants

The idea that rules options are things that the designers have had come up and needed to cover is slick. It means that these won’t be forced additions, they’ll be things that have happened in someone’s game. The idea that mass combat rules get added because mass combat happened in Mike’s game seems like the right way for development to move.

The actual rules don’t excite me much, but they’re a first draft. I bet they’ll get better.

Some of the cooler mass combat rules that I have seen, like Burning Empires’, leverage the GM. Instead of providing ways to resolve an attack that targets 40 orcs, give the GM tools to make judgement calls on what happens to 40 orcs within a cloud of choking fog.

Of course that’s easier said than done, but I hope to see a balance here: mass combat should use the GM, just like every other part of the game.

Huh. Barbarians, new adventures, and war. WotC and DW HQ are actually doing a lot of the same things right now.

Sage LaTorra is a game designer and senior test engineer at Google. You may know him from Dungeon World.

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