I read a series of posts on Twitter this morning by The Angry GM, where he ranted, in his usual style, about the upcoming D&D Beyond project: another attempt at bringing D&D into the digital world. It’s not hard to be skeptical about it, given the unexplained cancellations of the previous projects, and the lackluster offering that was DDI. It doesn’t help matters that:

  • Wizards of the Coast seems to have an allergy to releasing PDFs of their current material (as Angry GM points out);
  • Digital content released through their current “partnerships” is prohibitively priced;
  • Wizards has a reputation of litigiousness and paranoia concerning their intellectual property.

While I’m piling on, let’s look at all three major editions of Dungeons and Dragons that Wizards has released. Each has required either major revisions as follow-ups (3.5 and Essentials), or have fundamentally broken components (PHB Ranger), which seem feels like there’s a something fundamentally broken in the design and development process.

Given all of this, it’s hard (for me) to want to continue playing D&D.

With sadness, I finished listening to episode 300 of the Gamerstable podcast, the last episode. It’s come to be one of my favorite podcasts, and I will miss hearing their voices (and I finally was able to identify each of them!). You guys are awesome, I’m jealous of your group, and I laughed heartily with every episode. Keep on keepin’ on!

I forgot how much information is spread all over the 1e books. It’s taken 2 nights to create 5 1st-level characters. #DnD

RT @daplusk: I hope I live through the zombie apocalypse long enough to see two zombies making out so I can say ‘get a tomb’

Proud to be the 159th backer on @BackerKit for Upwind RPG – Treasure Planet … | Thx @stewartwieck! https://t.co/FLUAVSvCut

In episode 97 of Game Master’s Journey, the host, Lex Starwalker, was commenting on how it seems that the designers of D&D either don’t understand their own system, or aren’t even using it: 

  • The encounter with Strahd at the end of the recently published Curse of Strahd is CR15, but the adventure is designed for a party of up to level 10 characters, making it drastically out-of-balance.
  • Mike Mearls admits to using milestone XP for his games, instead of encounter XP, presumably because, when you do the math, encounter XP-based advancement seems pretty-well broken.

This made me realize that there may be an alarming trend in the D&D products coming out of Wizards of the Coast. To wit:

  • Third Edition D&D was shortly followed up by 3.5 after the designers realized that the game system they created had some serious flaws that required more than errata to correct.
  • Fourth Edition D&D was followed by “Essentials”, a product that made significant changes to the way some classes worked, likely due to complaints about over-complicating classes like the fighter in the interest of making all characters as interesting as high-level wizards.
  • Fifth Edition D&D was published with fundamentally broken class builds, like the beastmaster Ranger, with the hint that fixes are forthcoming, and exploratory changes being published in the (sadly lacking an RSS feed) Unearthed Arcana column.

Should I be worried?

Posted in RPG

I was recently listening to the Game Master’s Journey podcast, episode 94, where the host, Lex Starwalker, was expressing his opinions on alignment in RPGs, and his Primordia campaign in particular, and it got me thinking about alignment as a game mechanic.

Alignment, as I recall from the D&D 3.5 days, was fairly controversial. There were mechanical implications, such as spells, as well as the issues of dealing with “evil” PCs, and the problem of “Chaotic Stupid”. On top of that, groups seem to struggle with whether alignment is a guide or constraint that governs the characters actions, or a reflection of what the character has already done. And then there’s the problem of alignment shift.

I’ve always liked the idea of alignment as a mechanic, but I’ve struggled with the problems and questions that I mentioned above. And in our current edition of D&D, 5th, it’s stated that there are 3 pillars of adventuring, one of them being social interaction. It seems that alignment as a mechanic should fit into that pillar, if it’s done right.

One of the things that occurred to me in my ponderings was that the two axes of alignment are too subjective.

The Law/Chaos axis is cultural. In the real world, some societies/cultures/groups might consider some actions “unlawful” while others don’t care, or perhaps even encourage them. So what happens when the PC enters a region where an action she considers lawful is considered unlawful. Does the PC change her mind, or is she forced to act against her choice? That’s a problem.

The Good/Evil axis, on the other hand, seems to be an issue of morality. Again, this tends to be subjective, based on cultural mores, beliefs, tradition, etc. Who determines the rightness or wrongness of an action? In Christianity, good and evil are determined by God, set down as absolutes outside of the person. In a D&D fantasy world, where there are multiple gods, who makes those rules? One god may say one thing is good, and another god in that pantheon may say otherwise. 

Given these thoughts, it seems to me that, at the very least, what we call alignment, and the labels used therein, need to change. Something that is more objective or absolute, without raising questions of culture or morality. My idea (and granted, this is just an initial set of thoughts on this) is to change the Law/Chaos axis to Order/Chaos, and the Good/Evil axis to Life/Death. And in each axis, instead of picking one of three positions (lawful, neutral, chaotic; good, neutral, evil), the character is given (or chooses) a score that reflects their dedication to that ideal.

I have some thoughts on how this might work mechanically, but I’m not ready to lay them out here. I’ll do that in another post. But I wanted to get written down some of what I’ve been thinking, and perhaps even start a discussion.

Posted in RPG