Thursday, July 24, 2014

3 Defining Features: Dungeons and Dragons 5th Basic

Here we are, presented with the 5th Edition, Dungeons and Dragons Basic set.  The Basic set is given free of charge from Wizards of the Coast's website, in a sort of generous but perhaps brilliant maneuver.  They realize people can play a stripped down D&D for free from a multitude of areas, but by giving away the Basic 5th for free, its more likely that the pool of 5th players will grow.  If the amount of people able to play 5th grows, then the paying customers will have more chance to use the material, and maybe buy more or grow brand loyalty.  Good stuff.

Defining Feature #1: D20 Base

This is Dungeons and Dragons that feels like Dungeons and Dragons.  This is accomplished by being rooted in 3.X's D20 system.  Grid combat and 4th Edition ability systems are thrown out and we go back to the evolution of 1st(through Unearthed Arcana), 2nd(through revised) and 3rd's game systems.  You have your 6 Abilities, you have saving throws(though now based on your 6 abilities), you have DC checks.  Your characters level, and have a class.  Combat is a round consisting of turns taking in initiative order.  You roll D20 to make your attacks, to make your saving throws, and to determine outcomes of various types.  You characters have hitpoints and fight with monsters to reduce one side's hit points to zero before the other.  You have armor classes and dexterity bonuses for avoiding damage.  If you've played Dungeons and Dragons, you pretty much know how it goes.

Defining Feature #2: Advantage and Disadvantage

When I read people's reactions to Advantage and Disadvantage at first, they think its just a simple re-roll gimmick.  They assume its a Savage Worlds "Benny" mechanic or some sort of Fate thing.  They are right to an extent, but what you're not prepared for is how pervasive the Advantage and Disadvantage system permeates the game.  Basically you roll 2D20.  If you have Advantage, you take the higher number.  If you have Disadvantage you must take the lower number.  You think this is mainly for combat, and you'd be wrong.  If you help someone with a skill, you give them Advantage.  If you get distracted, you get Disadvantage.  If another player inspires you, you get to use Advantage.  So much math and sub-system equations are eliminated by the use of Advantage and Disadvantage.  The best part?  It scales PERFECTLY.  In former games, if you get a +2 for helping, eventually you outlevel that, and a system has to be placed in so that at higher levels you get more.  At low levels a -2 to hit on a creature is a huge deal, but later you basically ignore it.  With Advantage and Disadvantage, they stay the same from level 1 to level 30.  Having disadvantage sucks just as much at high levels as low levels, without the need for modifiers.  Having Advantage is awesome no matter when you get it.

Defining Feature #3: Backgrounds

The new character creation system was invented to satisfy the old fans and the new when it comes to roleplaying.  A full new genre of games is very popular, and there's an argument that "story telling" games are a rejection of the miniature wargame style rules of D&D 4th.  Role Playing gets put back into the game with 5th.  When you make a character, you choose a Background.  These Backgrounds supply an origin story, a personality, an ideal to live by, and a flaw that hinders you.  Maybe you are a folk hero, a peasant that saved a town through your brave action.  Maybe you are a criminal, a forger of documents that guilds turn to for their services.  Maybe you were raised in a demon church and now reject their teachings.  Backgrounds are great and they affect your choices for skill and equipment use, and guide you in making your decisions while playing.  I can see companies making entire books of backgrounds with the random tables that help you create your character as presented in the Basic PDF.  I would buy it, and I know many others that would as well.   As presented, Backgrounds are more guidance than hard rule, but with a few tweaks you will have your Role Playing tied to your Roll Playing very easily.

3 Defining Features 01: Defining Reviews

So I have struggled for a long time on how to "review" a gaming system.

I've read reviews before, and generally they fall into a couple of categories.  I first realized this when it came to board game reviews I would watch on Youtube.  The most extensive review channel for board games is Tom Vassel's The Dice Tower.  He no longer does ALL the reviews, and for some reason I did not like the guys that help him review.  I can't just say "I don't like them" because that's too general.  They do well enough, but there was something different and I needed to find out.  What I realized is that Tom reviews games and gives you the bullet points and a good summary.  The guys that help him do "tutorial reviews" where they play the game to review it, or tell you the rules in detail... something that doesn't help me really.

So that's what I wanted to avoid.  I wanted to avoid being a tutorial writer.  My blog is generally NOT for people that are hard core into knowing rules.  I think of all my friends, I am the only frequent GM when it comes to games, precisely because no one wants to learn all those rules.  So I have to make it informitive without catering to the GM crowd.  So how do I do that?  Well I do a summary.  The problem is that I am long winded and can easily get too in detail with a summary too.  It was while reading Dungeons and Dragons 5th Ed that I came up with the idea.  I thought, "if I take out what is common between 3rd Edition and 4th Edition, that probably leads 3 real strong and different things that make 5th be 5th".  And low and behold, I got my review system:

3 Defining Features.

Do some games have more than 3 Defining Features?  Yes, of course.  Will 3 well defined features be enough to give someone the gist of a game?  I think so.  A bit of which 3 features to choose will weigh on my shoulders, but I guess that's what would make my posts different too.  People that already know the system can decide on if I chose correctly, and maybe even think about what 3 features would make their list.  More importantly, I have finally defined my review articles for games.  Now I can bulldoze my way through my gaming library and give information about all the systems I do know.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons: Art Eras

With the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons, we come to the point of what I hope to be a new "look" to the game.  To me, Dungeons and Dragons' editions are represented by the artwork that was presented to me when I learned the system.  For me personally, there was the nebulous time where I had 3 different versions of the rules to cypher through.  It was when I inherited my cousin's extra book set.  In it were modules from 1st Edition, the rulebooks of 2nd Edition, and then I had my own set of "Basic Dungeons and Dragons".  The common thread to all of those was oil paintings.  In my opinion, the highest era of artistry in D&D was the 80's when the Dragonlance crew was making amazing artwork for the entire line.  Here are some examples:

The dragons in these paintings seemed real, and to this day, when I play, this is what I imagine in my head.  A sort of realistic style to a fantastic genre.  Look at the character designs.  They are rooted in what people would actually wear.  There is some historical accuracy to the pieces of armor, the clothing being worn.  Things seem to make sense(except for female armor, but at least its not metal bikinis).

When 3rd came out, I loved the artwork.  As you can see in the examples below, the team went a little bit JRPG/Comic style.  Characters wore stylish armors with buckles, straps and bags everywhere.  The weapons were very much not rooted in reality, being overly large and bombastic.  It was a huge change from what 2E was presented in the Revised edition(black books), which was encyclopedic and not very exciting.

With 3rd being as popular as it was, they continued with this art style.  We have had 15 years of this art dominating the industry now.  With 4th Edition, the art style did not get changed all that much.  With Pathfinder trying to tell everyone that they were where the 3rd Edition fans should be going, they used the 3rd art style.  In my opinion, much of what Pathfinder has put out has finally rivaled the Dragonlance stuff.

But that's 15 years of the same style, through technically 4 editions of the game(3rd, 3.5, 4th and Pathfinder).  While great, I think a change in art style really shows a fresh new start, something 5th Edition D&D desperately needs.  Here's some of the cover art.

Its got a solidness to it that reminds me of the oil paintings from the 80's, yet the character designs are still the exciting super hero kind of look to them.  There have been some scans of the inside artworks of these books, which I will not repost here, but the artwork inside is just as "solid" as the covers.  Textures, metals, stone, all look like they would feel instead of having a colored style to them like the previous.  I have to say, I approve of this.  It really is sort of blending the old with the new, which is the theme for this edition.