The new edition of D&D is starting to trickle out, as I mentioned yesterday, and I am really excited. I had held off on any emotion until I saw the actual rules. I’ve been playing D&D now for 20 some years, and I’ve been through it all. I started with my dads AD&D set, and was amazed when I moved down to Maryland and met people who played this mysterious “second edition” game. I played that system with a fervor for 4 years before 3rd edition was announced. We looked over it, and disregarded it. We saw no use in this edition. I finally got picked to play in an adventure with a friend (it was some sort of raffle), and absolutely fell in love with 3rd in early 2003. Later that year D&D 3.5 came out, and we embraced it heartily, playing it for another 5 years until 4th edition was announced. This time, I wasn’t going to be late to the party, I wanted in at the ground floor. I even bought my friend his own PHB! While we played it for some time, it was not what I had bargained for. 4 years later, after a number of tried, 4e just kinda died. We played Gamma World, tried Dark Sun out, and eventually played the Iron Kingdoms RPG, which was a blast. We’d fallen out of love with D&D, it just wasn’t the same. Wizards eventually caved, and in May of 2012 started their 2 year long beta test of the next edition. I was cautiously optimistic, burn me once, shame on me, burn me twice, well… you know the end.

So, here we are, August 2014, 2 years and  just a scant 3 months after the beta test started, and I have finally purchased and looked over the PHB, the only available rulebook.

I think I might be falling in love again.

See, 2e was that first girlfriend you have. You clung on to her a little longer than was good for you, it was your first love, and you only remember the good parts of the relationship. All the negative has slowly faded away. 3e was the one that got away. You caught her at a dance one time, and had an extremely good evening, but it wasn’t meant to be, and she moved away. 3.5, though is the serious one. She reminded you of the one that got away so much. You stuck this one through, and boy was it rewarding. You made plans, you got engaged, everything happened so fast and you were swept up in the romance. Then, she broke your heart. She left you, forever, for someone else and there was no going back. Now, 4e was the rebound girl. She was vaguely fun, and it was enjoyable for the first little while until the novelty wore off, but you kept at it, trying to make it work until finally, you gave up. You realized this wasn’t good for anyone, and you ended it. You float around for a year, maybe two. You flirt with all sorts of girls and have tons of good times. Nothing sticks, though. Nothing matters. Each one has its own flaws. 5e, though. This one might be the one. She’s like your first love, and brings back all those same feelings, but she is also like the serious one. She’s got everything going for her, at first look. But you’re wary. The rebound has you worried that maybe its all just novelty. Maybe it won’t stand the test of time. but you hope it will. You just hope.


Huh, I just rode that analogy train right into the crazy station. I’ll let it go, though. Right. Back on track.

the 5e PHB is a hardbound, rock solid thing:316 pages of information related to playing the game, and nearly all of them are for the player. When I opened it up, I immediately went to the fighter class. One of my big problems with 2e/3e was that the fighter was brutally simple. There was little to no room for fancy maneuvers and other sorts of flourish and I really enjoyed that 4e game him a ton of things to do. The Fighter in 5e isn’t initially more versatile, to be honest. Its level progression chart is impressively simple.

Straight from the new book!

Straight from the new book!

There is a glimmer of hope, though, in that they get to choose a fighting style: Archery, Defense (Tank), Dueling, Great Weapon (2h), Protection (bodyguard) and Two Weapon. Each gives a specific bonus to the player while they are wielding the appropriate weaponry. They get a few other semi-active abilities, but at the end of the section they have the Archetypes. They are very similar to prestige classes, but available to the class on reaching 3rd level. Each archetype takes the class in a slightly different direction, with archetype abilities granted at certain levels. For fighters, that is 3rd,7th,10th,15th and 18th. Each Archetype is really intriguing, as well. A Champion is a brutal warrior, the Battle Master is a devotee to the art of war, and the Eldritch Knight is the fighter-mage. What is extra interesting is that the champion is simple, straightforward and brutal, while the Battle Master is full of choices, complexity and options. The class can easily play for both types of players.

I was cautiously optimistic at that point and bought the book, took it home and gave it a quick glance over. I even posted to my facebook that it was a love child of 2e and 3e, which didn’t necessarily garner love, which is fair.  Now, though, I can take my time and try to project my meaning much better, and less in small tidbits while running around.

To me, 2nd was focused on playing the game, and discarded the numbers game, sometimes much to its detriment. there were numbers in the game, don’t get me wrong, but I feel that they were somehow more malleable than the numbers in 3.5 and 4e. The numbers in 2nd edition weren’t there to create balance, they were there to represent, as much as one can, the idea into the game. One of my general commandments of RPGs is that not all things are created equal, and so the game should not be. I don’t think that you need to validate fluffy bits in your rules, but I do think that they shouldn’t directly compete with combat bonuses, and 2nd edition did that well with its weapon and non-weapon proficiencies. It surely wasn’t equal, but it was separate. This edition also didn’t worry about the players breaking the game. Bonus types didn’t exist, and characters were allowed to do what they wanted, within the reason of the DM. Final arbitration of many, if not all, of the elements of the game were left up to the DM. Gygax many times would refer to the DM as the referee who was there to settle disputes during the game because someone had to be there to perform the task in the inevitable times that players disagreed, either with each other or the DM. This meant that the DM many times had to rule against his own pieces, and needed to be someone who was bent more towards story teller than rules lawyer in their position. Magic Items and stat lines also played a much lesser part of the game in 2nd than it did in the 3e generation of games. Your stats could only reach 18, and it was amazing when Dark Sun introduced the player character stat of 20 as something easily attainable, instead of something that only monsters had.

My version saw so much more use

My version saw so much more use

I know that all of that looks like I have rose colored glasses on, but that’s not true. I saw the need, and still do, for 3e to come along. D&D had been around in the same form for just over a decade and had seen a vast shift in both popularity and the way players played the game. It was overburdened by sourcebooks, rules and piles of options that didn’t mean anything in the overall scheme of the game or of roleplaying in general. Handicapping yourself is only useful if its fun, and many of the games options were either so optimal that no other options could exist, or so terrible that taking it wasn’t an option. Towards the end of the games life span characters had gotten so out of control that even the might dragons were not a challenge to many of the characters in the game. Finally, many rules were simply outdated and ignored. I cannot remember a time when we restricted character class, level or HP. We rolled Hit dice until the character stopped gaining levels. Optional rules like Multi-classing and Dual Classing were taken as given rules with no way around it, and characters were often “created” with multiple 18’s using tons of randomly rolled stat blocks because anything less than a 16 in any given stat wasn’t going to do you any good.

3rd, by contrast, is a numbers game. There are plenty of ways to make fun, enigmatic, fluffy characters, but by and large was driven by the numbers. Monsters HP was out of this world. Armor class and to hit bonuses became unlimited. Magic Items became the staple way of making sure that your character kept pace with the monsters of the world. Everything in the book became numbers driven and most choices a character could make were combat numbers. Combat and non-combat skills were combined into a single pool for simplicity sake and non-combat choices were nearly always shunned for the combat choices. What good was it to have +2 on Tumble and Acrobatics checks if you didn’t take that +2 to hit feat and got smurshed by a monster in the first two adventures. The game also had a rule for everything, and plenty of them. This change was the most insidious, as it was the one sunk its tendrils in the deepest and is the hardest to excise. who doesn’t want the game to be fair to all players, across all classes. Who wants to have an argument with the DM about how your character could totally jump that 25 foot chasm. Now, you have a rule for all of it. Everything in its place, and a place for everything. But, as I found out, that is not what happens. Instead, it erodes the DM’s ability to tell a great story. Players become “empowered” to show you the rule book and show you “right here” were the rules say that they can do this. With all the rules in place, and the game build for balance, you start accepting that they players can do whatever they want and you become, instead of a storyteller, and adversary. I tried to build the nastiest encounters and drive my players to the edge every time because that’s how the rules worked. I had become a slave to the rules, and it was terrible. I never had less fun DMing than at the end of 3rd.

one of my favorite editions

one of my favorite editions

I won’t only harp on the downsides of 3rd though they are many and varied. There is also a staggering amount of fantastic groundbreaking work that was done with the 3rd edition system. Player choice, once stifled behind arbitrary limits, was unleashed. Prestige classes and feats were invented to let players advance their character with options beyond their first level, and the games popularity skyrocketed. The monster manual became less a puzzle box and more of a tool box with simple, tweakable encounter creator mechanics and clear challenge ratings for the monsters. Classes such as the Barbarian, the Bard, the Warlock and the Monk became part of the core concept of D&D instead of some shunted away option. It was a glorious time to play the game, but as more stones were added to the mountain, it became harder to feel you were doing the right thing.

5th grabs the best of both of those philosophies and consolidates them into a system that, at first read through, embraces the best of both worlds. Gone are the bonus types of third edition, and there is no mention of how bonuses work together: they just do. The corollary to that, though, is that most of the bonuses to hit are gone as well, replaced with either advantage (roll two, take the better) or extra HP. Damage seems to have taken a few steps back, as well, with most bonus damages reigned in. Gone is the insane complexities that come from having negative HP, replaced with the death saves. Saving throws have undergone change again and are based on the action causing them, not static, or even deterministic stats. Options abound, with each class having between 2-9 archetypes to choose from to customize their class. Oh, and there are 12 classes: Fighter, Monk, Rogue, Wizard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Bard, Druid, Cleric, Barbarian, Paladin, and Ranger! Stats are a big part of the game, determining many of your actions, but are capped off at 20. Armor class has become more reasonable than 3rd, and more understandable than 2nd. Magic Items have finally taken a back seat to the character class itself, and from the complete absence of their mention I assume they are not as necessary.  Measurements are made in feet, and the game makes no mentions of the figures and models, making the game more accessible and easier to adjudicate for those on the fly fights. The game is definitely worth picking up and giving a read through, though the $50.00 price tag is a touch steep. I look forward to giving the game a few spins, and may even talk more about the classes as I go along discovering what I can and cannot do with he game.

Though I am excited to play the game, I do have to say I am still wary of what it could turn into. I was all gung-ho for 4th, and I feel burned from the game. Its not a terrible game, when taken in a vacuum, but it is most assuredly not a RPG. I really hope my enjoyment of 5e isn’t misplaced. If it is, I probably won’t play another Wizards RPG  ever again.



The fifth edition of D&D has released the first of the three core books, the Players Handbook,  to WPN retailers and the Gencon audience, with a full release to come tomorrow, 8/19. Picking this book up on Friday has really rekindled my interest in filling out my world, and I think putting it out here for suggestions and comments will be extremely helpful.

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Just a few days ago, Wizards released the primer and dates for the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and it turns out they are doing a few things different this time around.

The schedule is below.

Dungeons & Dragons Starter set: July 15th
Players Handbook: August 19th
Adventure: Hoard of the Dragon Queen (Forgotten Realms): August 19th
Monster Manual: September 30th
Adventure: Rise of Tiamat: October 21st
Dungeon Master’s Guide: November 18th

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I’ve been playing D&D for nearly 18 years now, and I’ve enjoyed all but a few times I’ve sat down to a table with my friends. I enjoy getting together with friends, shooting the shit, and playing monsters and heroes. I’ve been DMing for almost that entire time, and I’ve run my fair share of adventures, from years long campaigns to 15 hour one shot adventures. I’ve found different ways to turn tropes on their heads and I’ve built a huge mythology in my mind and in the players games that have affected the world I created.

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When it comes to Pen and Paper RPG’s there seems to be a sliding scale that is used to describe how a player approaches both their character and the game. On one end of this imaginary scale is the powergamer who is actively pursuing the game to its highest numerical end. They completely disregard of the personality of the character, having only the barest of bones to role play with: generally race, class and sex. On the other end stands the Complete Roleplayer, giving up every numerical advantage they can to have their character as close to the vision of the player as they can.

Neither end can really comprehend the other, as they are as antithetical to one another as the shadow is to light. Many times these two extremes, whether both are in the same group or not, will tear at any player in the center. These centrists represent the backbone of RPGs, the traditional player who wants nothing more than to have both an  effective character in combat and also while having a reasonably developed personality.

As the years have worn on, this central player has more and more disappeared, replaced by the two extremes. I’ve played D&D since I was around 12. I started in AD&D, moved to AD&D 2e, playing that for a very long time. After 3.0 came out, I did eventually grab the game, and grew to love 3.5. With the advent of 4e, I reflected on the fun that 3.0/3.5 had brought, and decided to run with 4e and see where it took us. I’ve also played Vampire, Gamma World, d20 Modern, Silver Age Sentinels, and the IKRPG. I dabbled a little in Savage Worlds and Exalted. Every game I played had its own dynamic, but they invariably contained people further along the spectrum towards either Personalities or Powergamers or both. lately, however, I have seen harder and harder stance towards one or the other, with little thought given to meeting in the middle. During these games, these two sides almost always would clash, causing player tension, which is the death of any game.


What really causes the divide is that there is a significant mental difference between the two perspectives starting points in playing the game. Powercentric players seek out and create a powerful character, placing a personality and character attributes around the core of the powerful character like a shell. It can be a very detailed and pretty shell with layers of color and different patterns, but it is still, ultimately, a shell. Personalitycentric players will seek to create a character and then fill out that character with abilities that match it. While its pretty and gorgeous on the outside, with the most fantastic styling, excruciating precise details and deep roots to the center, the core can be very rotten. The rules and abilities that they pick are based on color, not on taste. Its a very basic difference that is hard to describe, and even harder to acknowledge, as they are  simply incomprehensible to the other.

D&D has always been the poster child for the powercentric because it enables a massive selection of choices that inevitably devolve into combat choices. Even the most character driven player becomes wary of the danger and finality of combat, and combat effectiveness becomes the focus of almost every character. When the figurative life of the character you have built through your mental power, given breath through your force of personality, and become attached to through shared experience is in jeopardy, players almost always start crunching numbers to make sure their emotional investment sticks around, because numbers are the only defense you have against death in that game.

But there are, inevitably, people for whom the puzzle of creating a powerful character is the original draw, for whom the the death of the enemy is not enough, and nothing but their total numerical annihilation will suffice. These are the people who strove to hear M. Bison yell “Perfect!” at the end of a match. They hunt down every complex interaction and every written rule that they can glean an edge from. They hunt down every +1 and each additional die that they can add to their characters sheet. They are little more than the complex number generators of a video game wrapped in paper.  I find that there is no joy, no fun, in those characters. There is only the hollow victory before you need to get the next level, the next feat or ability that will allow you to do more numbers. When all your game decisions are made for you because they are factually the best  its much harder to create a character that is believable, especially after the first. When every character you play has the same basic core, there is nothing new about it, no matter the color of the shell.


As another extreme, if you take a personality player and have them make a character who has a fully fleshed out life, has a family, a job, and a solid roof above his head. What reason does this character have to be in the game? what reason could possibly make him leave his comfortable life? each of his four children are painstakingly detailed, as well as his boss and his family tree. The layout of the house he lives in includes rooms for the kids, the stables and the cook. Maybe the character is a loner, someone who just likes it better on their own, without the interference of people of lesser skill. He’s been a hardened veteran of countless countless battles, and has no trust of the world. Neither of these characters is part of the world, they are either above it or contained by it. They could have the strongest rules set to back them or none at all, but they are as useful as a heap of used diapers.

I try to stay in the center, as Building my character to be powerful gives me a sense of accomplishment, but that accomplishment means nothing if I stare at my belly button between combats. I’ve taken a character’s bare bones idea and fleshed it out to be the best that concept can be. My most personally powerful character was a complete accident, one that a friend of mine had to unfortunately suffer through DMing as he was an unstoppable force of Magic. Now, I do have to say that I only played in an Epic Level 3.5 game once, and man was it insane, but I tend to stay between 1 and 15, so my power curve is a little shorter than most. Endrus “Hammer” Tolsien was a Human Mage (enchanter) that didn’t have a single offensive damage spell. What he had was Spell focus and a build created to make his enchantments extremely robust. Hold, Charm person, Charm Monster, Mass Hold, Slow, Haste, the list goes on and on. What really made him bonkers was that he was super-effective against anything alive and enchantable, but was also extremely good at buffing the party to take on things that were not. Oh, and he used a Maul, in combat if necessary, and I took feats and abilities to make it so he was good at it, because it was in his story and background I had written for it. No other game would allow me the freedom to create a character so detailed and rich and full of story that I have ever played. And that is the beauty of RPG’s: They are small scale acting studios with a game behind them. 

None of it all matters, though, when the understanding of the core of the game flies out the window. When the Personality player creates something that is so detrimental to the group that it is divisive, when the Power player creates a character who’s very essence nullifies the rest of the groups existence, or when the middle creates a character that wants to stay home and do nothing. Everyone can be equally guilty at making the game  no fun for anyone other than themselves. 

What really is at the heart is that the game is a group game, set up between more than a single person. While you want to create the character that fits you the most, always keep in mind that there are other people at the table as well, including the GM, that are there to have fun. If your character, by their simple existence, is making someone else not have fun, you’re doing it wrong. You can build a powerful character that is the bane of the strongest monster without nullifying the DM, and you can create a dark character without having him be forced to come along for the ride. When creating a character you have to keep in mind that the whole game is based around going on adventures, and that the personality you create, bare or obese, needs to be able to go out on these adventures with others, and that these others need to have as equal a spotlight as you. I’m as guilty as anyone else is about breaking these rules, but I try hard to keep these in mind, letting other speak, kill monsters, and take the spotlight.

If you can’t you should probably go find a video game to play, because playing by yourself will be just as satisfying. I’ve heard Neverwinter Nights and Baldurs Gate are very, very good.

Over the past few weeks, I have had my interest in fleshing out the RPG world I’ve created rekindled. Its been what I think about in my spare time, which generally consists of time between holding my baby, and the ride to and from work. Well, one of the concepts that I have always known about my world is that there are tribes of barbarians with totem animals on the fringe of the main country of the island, Tyrndall (tear’n’doll). These barbarians, I’d always thought, would ride their totem animals into combat, and probably have lycanthropic leaders.

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Reaper is at it again.

Their bones miniatures, which are really good, are back on Kickstarter. This brings me both joy and sadness. I like the idea of getting some more models, but do the really need another Kickstarter?

I like the concept of Kickstarter. It is a unique way of getting direct to user funding, breaking the traditional model of investment funding. Why should any concept be tied to the stodgy tried and true concepts others have tried? Investors are notoriously closefisted with their money and generally unwilling to jump for new ideas. I like that it gets novel ideas into a marketplace that has the ability to bring creators and individual funders together. Direct funding is really inspiring and I think its use for expanding the genres that a tenured company can venture into, reaching sideways, can be a boon. I even think its really great for companies going to novel production methods that test the tried and true bedrock.

There are some exceptions, though. I’m not fond of big companies plumbing Kickstarter for their basic tenants. Certainly, if other funding avenues are not available, then I’m OK with it. But I really object to seeing large name companies pitching the same type of product they would have been able to sell normally to Kickstarter. I’m also opposed to something I’ve seen come more and more: rapid-fire Kickstarters. I don’t think Kickstarter should be used a your basic business model and before putting another project up, you should definitely deliver on the first.

So, its with mixed feelings that I have signed up for Bones II. I have backed the original Bones Kickstarter, Warmachine: Tactics, Wild West Exodus, and Relic Knights, and I have had different results from each one. Relic Knights is still not at my door, Wild West Exodus is currently on the block to be sold, and Warmachine: Tactics has just finished up. Bones did me right, though. It delivered my products a little late, but they were all in there. A Kickstarter success, my first!

So when I heard the about Bones II, I was excited. The bones models I got were fantastic if a little bendy but the value was enormous, and I felt that I was helping Reaper achieve what it couldn’t do without my help: make the bones line a success quickly. It would be a kickstart to their bones line allowing them to get deeper into production. but then they put up Bones II, and the more I thought about it, this second incarnation had me more than a little torn. while there are some fantastic sculpts that are coming to the bones line, I feel that going back to Kickstarter is a little disingenuous. Isn’t this what we did for you the first time? Weren’t you supposed to move forward with your line once we got you… Kickstarted?

I’ve pledged in, but only to see what type of models they’ll release, and maybe get some extras. The real hook for me the first go round was the piles of giants I could get. Oh, and that I would never need another hero model again. 240 some models for $100 was pretty phenomenal. This next one, with about 14 days left, is sitting around 135 models. Its just not as thrilling. The addons are pretty neat, but only in a conceptual manner. The hill giants are really the only ones I have a powerful desire for.

We will see how it all pans out, but I am really hoping that they get a little more strength before the end so that I can feel good about my money going to them. Its going to need a lot more than a few cool models this time.