Wednesday, 27 June 2012

BEARS (or how to make ordinary animals scarier than monsters)

Dominic Matte
I watched the new Pixar movie, Brave, and was struck by how impressively terrifying an ordinary bear could be. And, of course, since I'm a huge nerd, that got me thinking about D&D.

Great writing, particularly horror, is often done by taking the familiar and making it somehow unfamiliar. Not totally alien, but just enough to throw you off and make you uncomfortable or unable to predict what's coming. D&D has big scary monsters and liches and dragons which are frightening because they're so powerful, but it's easy to make them feel too "out there", or even too familiar if you're really into fantasy.

Instead, you might want to scale things back and have the big scary bad guy of your campaign be... a bear.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Hobbit Board Game

Dallas Kasaboski
There has been a considerable lack of Dungeons and Dragons in my life as of late. Understandably so, as I just moved to Edmonton, only know a few people here, and getting a bunch of people together to play is hard enough, let alone when you don’t know a lot of people, or the ones you do are busy with work and living 2 time zones away. So, exploring the city as I have been, I was lucky enough to come by a comic book shop a couple of blocks from my new apartment.

I was looking for something interesting to play, something D&D related, and could be possibly played by 2 people. I didn’t want to pay a lot, and I’m not too sure about the newer D&D board games. My online search yielded two games which might prove interesting, namely Dungeon and The Hobbit board games. The problem with these is that they are hard to find as Dungeon was released in 1975 and even though several editions have been released, it’s not exactly flying off the shelves. The Hobbit has a similar history.

My mom says I am lucky, actually, the exact wording she uses is a little more colloquial, but the meaning is the same. Suffice it to say, as I was perusing the wares of this comic book shop, a Happy Harbor Comics, which is an amazing place full of games, comics, and all sorts of things, I came across The Hobbit board game!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Character Sheets as Monster Stats

Dominic Matte
Everyone's ready and excited for this week's session... except the one guy who can't make it today. Or perhaps your zombie-hunting paladin is making a guest appearance for a session, helping the party as an NPC ally.

While it's easy to simply say "Telia was knocked unconscious in the first fight", it can make more sense and be more enjoyable if you find a way to keep the character involved even when the player isn't present. It can also be great fun to use a character you've played as an NPC in another game. Of course, you don't want to be making roleplaying decisions for an absent player - it's their character, after all.

One of the simplest ways to keep a character involved is to create a monster stat block based on their character sheet. That way they can participate in combat and contribute to skill checks without worrying much about breaking character.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

PDFs and Piracy

Dominic Matte
As a disclaimer before I say anything at all, I don't work in publishing or the games industry and know very little about economics, so if you do know these things and what I say is ridiculous, I'd love to hear why.

Wizards of the Coast stopped selling PDF copies of D&D books a few years ago, despite the fact that demand is there, presumably because they were worried about piracy. Even a PDF that's somehow locked or protected can be broken into and released DRM-free, so Wizards' approach was to... stop selling PDFs.

There are a lot of people who either prefer PDFs, or would like the option of owning both print and PDF copies of their books (I personally like to have both because as a DM, it's hard to carry ten or more hardcover books to a session that's not at my place). 

And here's the key thing: not offering official PDF copies does not mean that PDFs don't exist. It's a simple matter to scan and compile a physical book into a digital copy and (illegally) distribute it for free, and if you do a quick search on The Pirate Bay, you can see that it's being done.

So my question is this: if people are going to distribute PDFs anyway, why not sell legal ones to capture at least some of that market? 

PDFs are relatively small files, so hosting is trivial. Not to mention that you don't need a warehouse like you do with physical books - one file is enough, and you send out copies to buyers with no printing costs or volume requirements.
Bandwidth may be more expensive, but again, they're smallish files.

Actually, a fantastically elegant solution would be to include a code in each physical book, and through the Wizards website, you can redeem the code for a PDF copy of that book. It wouldn't necessarily increase sales by vast margins, but it would be an excellent gesture and acknowledgement of the digital age and the difficulty of carrying around dozens of hardcover books.

EDIT: it's been pointed out to me that people could easily steal a card or snap a picture of the code unless the books are wrapped in plastic... which would increase manufacturing costs. Perhaps they should just sell PDFs on the website again.

As I said above, if this doesn't make sense for business reasons, I'd like to know why. I'd also like to know how D&D fans feel about PDFs in general - is there a big enough demand for PDFs for this to be worth Wizards' time, for example?

Monday, 4 June 2012

Legend of Korra's Pro Bending in D&D

Dominic Matte
Pro bending is a small-team sport that focuses on coordinated and cooperative combat. Sounds like a perfect fit for D&D, right?

At its simplest, pro bending involves two teams (3 players each in the show, but up to 5 or 6 for a D&D party) trying to push each other out of the arena. To make things work in D&D, we'll allow any class to play – you don't need to adapt Avatar's bending into your game. However, keep in mind that due to the nature of the game, some classes will be stronger than others.

Without using bending as it is in the TV show, some rules have to be modified, and others have to be added or considered because of how combat works in D&D. This way you can drop the sport into any existing game without needing to introduce new classes or change your campaign world to include bending.

Note: pro bending and D&D combat each use the word “round” to mean something different, so I'll make a distinction between the two:
a Round (capital R) is a sports round, ie you play for a certain amount of time and the Round ends.
A round (lowercase r) is the turn measurement in D&D combat rules, ie one full initiative rotation.

Cartoon images are from Avatar: The Legend of Korra and are copyright Nickelodeon.