D&D Next!

In case you haven't already heard, today Wizards of the Coast announced that they are developing the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. The announcement has been covered on a number of sites, including CNN, EN World, NY Times, and Forbes. In fact, Forbes has a nice roundup of links if you are interested in reading even more.

While there are a lot more questions than answers at this point, one of the big things to note about this new iteration is that the goal is to provide an experience that all fans of D&D, regardless of when they started, will find familiar and comfortable. Now, I realize this is a lofty goal, but, to be honest, I don't think it's insurmountable.

As discussed in a variety of Legends & Lore columns (commonly abbreviated to L&L), a modular game system is key to this. This causes fear in some people, how can one game system cover so many game styles and preferences. But currently, don't we already have that with all the various editions of the game as it is? Don't people who like particular play styles tend to prefer particular editions over others? I know people who play 0e, others who play 2e, and many who play 3x and 4e. Currently, the edition is often the shorthand for the play style desired. But why keep it that way? Why not create language to help people communicate their preferences and provide tools to achieve those goals? As an added bonus, if most of this shares a common base, this means players, DMs, and designers don't have to remember 4+ different rules system when moving between play styles.

And if that is where Wizards of the Coast is going with this, I couldn't be happier. While I love 4e, I've often felt sad that many of my D&D playing friends didn't feel like they had a home in my edition. Hell, I've been mad on a number of occasions over the whole concept of the walls between editions. We have so much more in common than those differences would have us believe.

What I love even more than this new, inclusive vision of D&D is that they are gathering the thoughts and opinions of the fans through play tests, the Legends & Lore column, and other venues. This is relatively new ground for them and I'm really excited to see them try it out. Will there be some speed bumps along the way? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I think we'll both get a better product out of it as well as an informed and supportive community.

Beyond that, why am I so excited? Well part of it is that I was fortunate enough to do a play test session of it in early December. I can't talk about specifics for a number of reasons, but even in that incredibly early play test I saw a lot in there that people had been asking for. So right away that told me that they are listening to their fans and trying to provide a game that will make as many people as possible happy while still being D&D.

If you are interested in working with Wizards of the Coast in creating something we can all call our D&D, add your name to the play test group. They also created a community group for D&D Next. If you are on twitter, many people are using the #dndnext hash tag to continue the discussion there.

So, without a ton of detail about the new game to talk about, that's where I'm at. How do you feel? What excites you about D&D Next? What do you want to see?

Heroica!

One of the awesome gifts my husband gave me for Christmas is Heroica: Fortaan. I haven't had a chance to play it yet, but I wanted to share my thoughts thus far.

What is Heroica?

The easiest way to think about it is as a board game built out of Legos with many of the trappings of a fantasy role-playing game. At least in the Fortaan set, you get to play one of four heroes: Barbarian, Wizard, Druid, and Knight (Rogue and Ranger are available in other sets). Each hero gets a special skill that is triggered during certain die rolls. The goal of the game is to be the first player to move from the start area to the end area, often by defeating monsters, finding keys to locked doors, and searching for treasure. For some videos on how to play, check out the Heroica website. (warning, it has music that automatically comes on)

What I love

One roll represents multiple creatures
In D&D and the D&D-inspired board games, both the heroes and the monsters get a turn. It makes sense, D&D tries to more fully simulate "real" combat, especially the fog of war and the interaction of both sides. In the base play experience of Heroica, only the heroes do things. When I roll my attack die, it determines between 4 outcomes: Shield (1), Sword (2), Skull (2), Sword & Skull (1).

Here's what happens with each:

  • Shield - I defeat the monster or I get to use a special melee power that is attached either to my Hero or to my weapon. So, if I'm a Barbarian, I get to defeat all adjacent monsters and move a space.
  • Sword - I defeat the monster.
  • Skull - I take damage equal to the monster's strength and move away 1 space. Heroes have 4 Health (hit points). Most monsters have strength of 1, underbosses have 2, bosses have 3.
  • Sword and Skull Both things occur. I defeat the enemy but not before it gets a good pop in at me.

What this means is that both my turn and the monster's turn is represented in that one die roll, making the game run a little faster although a bit more abstractly. It also deals with a problem I've commonly had in D&D, where the players all have great initiative bonuses and get to wipe out the enemies before the latter has a chance of doing any damage.

The chart is printed on the die
Since Heroica doesn't try to simulate everything, the die is effectively it's own chart. The skull and sword pictures on the die only take up half of the face. The other half has pips 1-3. That makes the die usable in the attack phase and in determining how many spaces the Hero may move during his move phase, but it's also useful when determining the outcome of a treasure chest. In the game, all treasure chests are trapped. You roll the die to find the outcome. A Shield gives you 2 gold pieces, a Sword gives you 1, a Skull does damage of 1 Health, and a Sword and Skull gives you a gold piece and reduces your Health by one.

You can hack the die
If you have more than one set, it's possible to hack the die. As it is, Heroes have a 2 in 3 chance of defeating the monster, 1 in 2 of taking damage, and 1 in 6 of triggering a special ability. But, if you want to change that up, it's just a matter of changing the faces.

You can hack the adventure
The instruction booklet has you build a number of rooms and hallways that can be connected in different ways. So you build the rooms first and then follow a dungeon map to put them together to form the dungeon. I'm not sure about the other sets, but Fortaan comes with 3 scenarios. The game encourages you to also create your own and to mix and match the various elements to create your own dungeons. I just wish they had named the various sub-sections so it would be easier to share new dungeon creations with others.

You can hack the game
Well, of course you can hack any game that isn't a black box, but the rules even say it.

Try building your own missions, thinking up exciting stories about the adventures of your Heroes, or even changing the rules! The secret to changing a game is to only change one thing at a time.

They go on to give 2 different play experiences, Epic Heroica, where you play in one mission right after another (meat grinder!) and Battle Heroica, where one player controls all the monsters (so close to DMing!). In addition, there's a magic item in this set, the Helmet of Protection, that can be kept by the Hero between missions. Now if it just had a sheet to log your missions on....

So that's what has me excited about Heroica. I think rolling the die to move makes sense in the original intent of the game, where we're competing to be the first to accomplish a particular task, but it would probably be one of the first things I fiddled with in the game.

I'm also tempted to use the Heroica sets as my terrain in D&D. Sometimes minis annoy me because they are too realistic, it's hard to remember that the kobolds carrying spears are really supposed to be skeletons with axes but my DM didn't have enough of the latter.

I also think this game is great at teaching the fundamentals of playing tabletop RPGs. Many of the basics are here: tracking Health or hit points, buying and selling gear, how classes and weapons offer different advantages, magic potions, locked doors, and trapped treasure chests. And most importantly, how to make the game your own. What do you think?

What Kind of Player are You?

Yesterday, I came across this, in my opinion, awesome video, "Gamer Girl Manifesto."

Do I 100% agree with everything about or in the video? No. I'm not a big fan of pwning newbies and I find the frequent use of the word girl instead of women a bit annoying at times, but overall, it's a message I can agree with. In short form, their manifesto is this:

Don't be racist. Don't be homophobic. Don't be sexist. Follow that code and everybody will have a good time. And when someone breaks that code, CALL THEM OUT. Don't just let it ride.

In my mind, this is a longer form of Wil Wheaton's "Don't be a Dick."

Apparently, some people can't grasp the longer form either. Two people left inappropriate comments on my G+ post within hours of me sharing it. The first left these gems.

I agree with the "Don't be a Perv", but as for everything else these chicks need to just grow some skin and put up or shut up.

I deleted the comment and left a comment that the G+ post was my space and that I will police it. Which lead to this:

Because you haven't got the guts to face reality.

Men shouldn't be perv's. But woman need to learn their are things they just can't do. Just like I can't carry a baby to term, no woman has a place on the battle field.

If you don't want to hear the truth, then don't post on the internet.

Awesome, the price for me just being who I am is that I have to subject myself and everyone else to these comments. Except, no, it doesn't. I can delete, which is what I did. And that led to this awesome nugget. I'm editing out a bit about women in the military and clotting factors because, well, it has absolutely nothing to do with the video.

First off, this is [woman's name], [man's name]'s wife, posting. My man has a job, and takes good care of his family so that I don't have to work outside the home.

So now I ask. Why do you hate women? Why do you want to place the curse of men upon our shoulders? Why do you want to take away our grace and genialness, only to replace it with labor and strife?

...

Delete this post again, And I will just repost it again and again.

So, yeah, awesome. Not only do I have to subject myself to those types of comments, this person has a right to harass me. I of course deleted that post and then blocked the account, because, well, I made it clear those comments were unwelcome and it's my space. Continuing to post those comments after I set my boundaries is a clear lack of respect for me as a person.

Besides, whether or not it's the guy or his wife (every online profile lists him as single), they clearly have a G+ account of their own where they can say whatever they want. And after I deleted the last comment and blocked the account, a message similar to this one showed up on that account. I'm not a government. I am under no obligations to give them a stage.

I have to admit, the second person bothered me a bit more even though so far it wasn't an ongoing process. The comment? A single word:

gay.

Seriously.

Now, you might ask why I wrote about this. I mean, I dealt with it on G+; no one would have to know their message beyond the small group who may have seen it there. The problem is that I often run into people who say that they never see any sort of sexism in the hobby or industry. Well, the person with the G+ account in the first comment calls himself a game designer and has at least 2 gaming companies (neither of which I had heard of before) listed in his various online profiles, including one with products on DriveThruRPG. A third, seemingly new company, has him on their list of game developers. At least 4 of my friends in the industry have him as a friend on Facebook.

If I were newer or didn't have as many friends in the industry side of things as I do, I might have thought he was representative of the rest of the industry. When you have those friendships, it's easy to dismiss these as people who aren't quite right or have an axe to grind. There's comfort in knowing your friends and how awesome they are. However, letting these comments exist and not taking a stand about it means that people who don't have that comfort often suffer and are turned away.

Help Me Celebrate the D&D Community

I have some great news to share with all of you and a huge favor to ask.

The short version:
Good News: Wizards of the Coast is starting a new column on their website to highlight the contributions of the D&D community.
Better News: I get to write it!
Best News: You get to take part!

Every two weeks, half of my column will be about a topic, like modern fairy tales or gamer resolutions, that touches on our community and game, directly or indirectly. The other half will be links to articles, resources, videos, etc, often from community members just like you.

I’m really excited about this project and can’t wait to share the articles I’ve been working on. But there’s just one catch. I have no idea what to name it.

That’s where you come in. I’d love to hear your suggestions because at the end of the day, this column is about you and the hard work you put into making the game awesome. Feel free to leave a comment, send a tweet to @sarahdarkmagic, or write an email to tracy@sarahdarkmagic.com. Just get them to me by Sunday, November 20th. If I get too many ideas and can’t choose between them, I’ll create a quick poll and post it here.

Speaking Up

Trigger warning: I talk about harassment and abuse aimed at women online.

Recently, a number of articles have pointed to one of the hard parts of being a woman online; there are a number of people who will say terrible, abusive things to you solely because you are a woman and have an opinion. I recently was interviewed by G*M*S Magazine before the latest round of articles about this phenomena. One of the questions asked was how to get more women into RPG blogging and podcasting and I raised this issue. Please give it a listen when it comes out. For now, this paragraph from another article (written from the male perspective) sums up the situation for me:

I’m a guy who also gets a fair number of abusive emails — I even have a hobby of posting some of them now and then on the web — but there’s a qualitative difference to what I see. I get death threats regularly, but they’re usually of the form “you should get [violent fate] for [hating god, violating crackers, being liberal]“; I don’t get threats of the form, “[Man], I need to [crude sexual assault] you”. As a man, I can get threats for speaking against some cherished dogma, which I can sort of halfway understand, but I don’t get the threats for just being of my sex and speaking out, period. -- Pharyngula

This distinction is usually lost in discussions of the topic. Often the threats come not because the woman says something that threatens the status quo, but because her mere presence, the fact that she has a voice at all, threatens some people. For instance, take this incident of a boy threatening to rape Kat Armstrong's daughter merely because she appeared in a video with her mom.

The video offers further proof of the worry women face by just being active online. The reason her daughter is in the video is because Kat, then community manager at Lockergnome, was loathe to do a video by herself. I empathize with her. During my first GenCon, Trevor Kidd was kind enough to run a few D&D bloggers, including me, through a game of the then-unreleased Castle Ravenloft. At the end, he asked to take a video with our thoughts on the game. I declined because I was so scared that the video would go on YouTube and I would have to deal with the comments. I completely froze up and then apologized profusely. I self-censored myself due to an intense fear of what would be said.

You're just looking for it

Sometimes I get accused of looking for these stories. The problem is, I don't have to look for them. They appear, several times per month, in newspapers and friend's feeds. The people who hurl these abuses often search out women and make themselves known. Take these DMs I received after I asked why someone had a problem with me and then why he followed me if he disliked me so much:

Well, I feel you are just a pretentious bitch. I don't like your feminismistic views and well, I just never liked you.

For the same reason i follow dazedsaveends. Sometimes you guys say shit that makes me angry, and someone has to read it and respond.

If all your followers just kissed your ass all day, it wouldn't be much fun.

How many of these would you have to receive before you questioned if it was all worth it? 5? 10? 20? 100? And then remember that a woman may receive multiples of these when she posts, often more than her male counterparts. Are we really surprised then that women leave the public sphere so often?

Broad Issue

The number of women who have come forward, across topics and genres, is also important to note. This isn't just an issue in the geek community but yet it affects the community just the same. If we want to get more women to participate, we need to know this happens and form ways to combat it. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • When women, or well anyone, complain about these behaviors, please stop telling them that if they want to blog or podcast, they'll just have to learn how to deal with it. Abuse should not be the price we pay for simply expressing ourselves. If it is, then don't be surprised if people self-censor themselves.
  • Learn the facts of rape, sexual assault, and crime in general so you can see the bigger picture. Stop perpetuating old myths that you need to dress modestly in order to lessen your chances of being raped. You aren't doing anything other than making yourself feel better and you make women even more paranoid and hyper-conscious of what they do. It's near impossible to write or be in public, when a woman has to analyze every outfit, every word choice, for fear that this will be the time she somehow invites unwanted attention. Plus the price of admission to the public sphere should not be the hiding of one's sex or gender, just like we should never ask someone to change his skin tone.
  • Speak up. If you see someone bashing someone due to their sex or gender, say something. This is not white knighting. This is caring about your community and taking ownership over what happens in your presence. If you feel uncomfortable speaking up, at least find a way to let the victim know that you support him or her.

This doesn't mean that men don't face some of the same issues; that threats of violence or rape aren't used against men or that, in some areas, just being a man isn't seen as a threat to the status quo. For instance, I know a number of men who feel the same way when they enter zones of traditional female power such as child care websites. This, too, is wrong but outside the scope of this discussion.

More Links

Pathfinder Beginner Box - Teaching New GMs

In my last post, I wrote a bit about what's in the new Pathfinder Beginner Box for players. However, my favorite part of the box has to be the GM stuff, especially the Game Master's book. While I love anything that helps new players try out the game, I'm especially interested in products to help new game masters. We need new players in the hobby for sure, but to be honest, it's rare to find someone who wants to play a tabletop RPG who hasn't played a video or computer RPG in the past. Sure, there are differences between the types of RPGs, but if you've played a video or computer RPG, you can probably pick up the basics of a game like Pathfinder pretty easily, especially if you're given a pregenerated character. However, the game master position is unique to tabletop games. There's rarely an analog in the digital world; the computer generally acts as the game master.

Adventure Awaits

The adventure starts on page 3. I love this because it makes the adventure feel more approachable. I happen to love GMing and I spend a fair amount of time convincing others to give it a try. One of the most common excuses I hear is that they don't know the rules well enough. As with the Hero's book, the rules are given as needed. So, in the first encounter they describe how initiative works and the parts of a turn and round in combat. The next three encounters focus on exploration, with instructions on how skill checks, traps, and the like all work. In many ways, the adventure provided works like the intro quest of many video game RPGs. Each introduces a new concept or two and then they build on each other so the GM and players learn the basics of the game.

In addition to providing a great beginner adventure full of what I consider to be iconic beginner monsters (all it's missing are some rats), the included flip mat is wonderful. One side of the mat has a dungeon complex, the same one used in the adventure. However, not all of the features in the adventure are on the map, so the GM gets some practice adding things to a map on the fly. The other side is a basic tan mat, ready for whatever the GM thinks up next.

Speaking of what's next, the adventure ends on page 15 with a list of ideas for future adventures. The adventures themselves are an exercise left to the reader.

Introduction to Game Mastering

After the adventure is a great introduction to game mastering. It defines common terms, outlines the duties of the GM, and discusses how to adjust a prewritten adventure for your group. After that, it explains the details of creating your own adventures, everything from drawing maps (common map symbols are on the inside back cover), types of encounters, types of adventures, and simple world building advice. Then it provides an adventure seed for an adventure of your own design, based in the same area as the included adventure and using the town of Sandpoint as the basis. Sandpoint itself is detailed in the back of the book. Finishing that section is information on the types of environments for an adventure, such as dungeons, forests, cities, and the like, along with traps, terrain, and other tips for each.

Additional Tools

After the introduction, the book gives a few more tools for new GMs. Magic items, a mini bestiary with 45 monsters, and a write up of the town of Sandpoint along with some more adventure seeds, are all included. The magic item section details some of the intricacies of potion, scroll, staff and wand use as well as how a character identifies a magic item. in the monster section, the book provides a guide to reading the monster stat block, pictures for each monster, and tables for building random encounters by environment type along with instructions on how to create them. An easy to read conditions table can be found inside the book with the more common conditions on the back cover. With all of these tools and the reusable map, I think new GMs will find a lot to love in the Beginner Box.

Thoughts

Overall, I really love the Pathfinder Beginner Box. I think they did a great job taking a complicated and complex game and boiling it down to something a new player will find more approachable. They also sprinkled lots of advice throughout the book, which is particularly helpful to those of us who don't have an older sibling or cousin to teach us the game.

One thing I hope they do is produce some instructions for the next step, helping new players transition from the beginner box model of the game to the full version. Obviously, with just 64 pages for the Hero's Handbook and 96 for the Game Master's Guide, not everything in the core rulebook made the jump. Existing players and game masters welcoming in players who learned the game through the Beginner Box should have an idea of what parts of the game rules they might not know. But, overall, that's a relatively small matter.

Pathfinder Beginner's Box - First Look

While I was out in Seattle after Geek Girl Con, I stopped by the Paizo offices. Somehow I was able to talk my way into some sweet loot, the Pathfinder beginner's Box. I haven't had the chance to do a full review yet, in part because I'm fairly new to Pathfinder and 3.5 but I want to share some of my initial thoughts.

Choose Your Own Adventure

The box includes a choose your own adventure to introduce new players to the game and its conceits about the world. One of the interesting effects of the depth of the rules is that even relatively small choices, such as the type of weapon one uses against a creature, can matter. For someone unfamiliar with that style of play, the first time she faces a skeleton with a sword can be a frustrating experience. The included adventure highlights that the game includes concepts such as this one in a safe environment.

In addition to introducing the player to a number of specific game concepts, the choose your own adventure does a great job in introducing the player to roleplaying games in general. I really enjoyed that it followed up the solo adventure with an example of play, showing how the story in the solo adventure gets translated to play at the table and how a group works together.

Concise Directions for Building a Character

After a brief introduction to the game rules and an explanation of the dice, the book continues with directions on how to build a character. They did a great job on this. The character sheets provided in the box are coded with letters that correspond to the instructions to make it easy for players to identify where on the character sheet they should put their information. This is something I've struggled with since I started playing D&D. They added these letters not only to the blank character sheets, but also to the pregens. So if a new player is confused about something, he can reference the pregens as an example.

Suggestions for the Finishing Touches

Not only does the book provide a simplified list of skills, feats, and equipment for new players, it provides class-specific suggestions for each of those sections. For a new player who isn't quite sure and is worried that her group will tease her if she makes a poor decision, the suggestions are wonderful. I was nervous about that when I created my first character. Like the rest of the book, these sections have a lot of graphics. Each equipment item has a picture next to it. For some established players or people who grew up looking everything up, this might seem silly. But for a new players and especially younger kids, anything keeps them in the book and not distracted sounds great to me. Plus, sometimes seeing the physical representation right there can fuel the imagination or provide words to a nervous player.

Just What You Need

After that the book has a section on more game rules. At 14 pages, it includes enough information to get a good feel for the game and to play, without being overwhelming. It even includes information for leveling up. One thing I love about this boxed set is that it covers levels 1-5 for the basic classes.

I didn't go over everything, but I hope this gives a good idea of what's in the Beginner's Box for players. I'll write about the DM side of the equation soon. In the meantime, if you'd like to see how they handled character classes, see what the pregens look like, or look at the extra player and DM content they provide (including a beginner's version of the barbarian) check out the Beginner's Box page on their website.

Save versus Frustration

After Geek Girl Con, I spent a week hanging out with my friends in Seattle and was able to get in 3 games while out there, The One Ring, 4e, and Pathfinder. Both The One Ring and Pathfinder games had a higher danger threshold than the 4e game and most of the 4e games I've been in in general. In particular, both had their share of save rolls. I know this is something that used to be a bigger part of D&D but my experiences over the week left me feeling a bit mixed on them.

The One Ring

In The One Ring, I played a wood elf. We were chasing down some dwarves and the trail led to a pool's edge where the tracks mysteriously stopped. A bell began to ring and my character fell victim to its enchantments. Down into the pool she went.

This is the first time I've played a character that was compelled to do something. Since this was a one shot for me and I trust the GM completely (Hi Chris!), it really wasn't a big deal. Out into the hallway we went and he quickly described what was happening. I had a few choices to make, do I wait for my party (not knowing if they would come rescue me, I was a new character after all)? Do I try to swim out of there the way I came in? Or do I open the dark door I found down there? None of these choices are an obvious "right" choice but at least the one I chose, wait for the rest of the party, wasn't an instant death sentence, although some of the players in the room thought my character might be dead already.

Now, if my failed save had led to instant character death, I'm not sure how happy I would have been. I mean, there are times where I wouldn't really care and sometimes games with instant death can be fun. A fair number of video games have that type of behavior, where the fun of the game is more in mastering it than playing through an awesome story. But in this case, there wasn't anything that was obvious to me about what I should do. It would have felt arbitrary and unfulfilling. I guess what I mean is that the setback was nice, but being able to recover from it, even if it meant fighting more monsters, was even better.

Pathfinder

My host Stephen was nice enough to run a Pathfinder dungeon crawl/delve for me during my stay at his house. While I hadn't played Pathfinder before, I had been in a few sessions of a 3/3.5 house-ruled game. However, my character really hadn't had to deal with many save situations and definitely none that involved conditions like paralysis or blindness. The Fellowship of the Tweet had dealt with paralysis (and my cleric's inability to Turn Undead versus some ghouls) but I'm still a little scarred by that encounter.

If I'm being honest, I found the save situations in that game a bit more frustrating. Our barbarian became blinded for an hour after he failed his saving throw versus the blindheim and another character got sucked into a gelatinous cube at one point. While I think I can see what the mechanics were trying to model/accomplish and there is nothing inherently wrong about them, they just aren't my preferred way of doing it.

That said, I did see how they encouraged more creative play (although it's not the first time I've noticed it). Particularly in the case of the blindheim, where you have some options to overcome its gaze attack (which in 4e terms can be used both as an aura and as a ranged at-will). Although the dice weren't in my favor, Stephen said yes to my idea of trying to cover the blindheim's eyes with my cloak, which would have helped my party kill it faster.

I wouldn't mind making it clearer in 4e that DMs could allow creative solutions like that in their games, perhaps even in the monster's statblock. We already have this to a degree. For instance, the wraith loses its insubstantial trait until the start of its next turn whenever it takes radiant damage. This might encourage a divine character to choose a less powerful attack with the radiant keyword to give the party a better chance of hitting and killing the creature. However, we could expand this even more and make it more like a trap or hazard where the PCs can take countermeasures to avoid a particularly damaging attack or stop a buff. Spend a standard action and one part of the monster's special powers goes away for a turn.

This might also give space for the people who like to play helper characters. Instead of making certain classes be helpers, individual players can decide how to play out those classes. And while not everyone can necessarily help with every monster, helping isn't limited to a particular class type. This might be more fun and rewarding than the existing aid another rules.

So how would this work? Let's take the blindheim as an example. In 4e, I would make its gaze attack into an aura. Entering or starting your turn in the aura causes you to grant combat advantage and provides a -2 to attack rolls since the creature's gaze is so distracting. If you end the turn in the aura, you have to make a saving throw against becoming blind. (Alternatively, we could do this when you start or enter, with a successful saving throw meaning you grant CA and have the -2 penalty instead of being blinded.)

Since Gaze attacks can't be done while the creature is blinded, players could find ways to blind the creature. Perhaps they have a power that causes blindness or they decide to put a cloth over the creature's eyes. The type of action required (standard or minor) should be determined by the benefit they gain from the action. In the terms of this aura, I'd say they were gaining a pretty big benefit on success, and would require a standard action, since not only would they as an individual benefit but the whole party as well.

What Do You Think?

So, let's say you were faced with a creature like the blindheim. How would you overcome its special powers? How far can we push this while still keeping the rules fairly light? Would you allow someone to spend their standard action, no check, to try to blind the blindheim?

Geek Girl Con Recap

As many of you know, I went to Geek Girl Con last weekend. I had a lot of fun and I thought it went pretty well for a first year con.

Why go?

  • To hear a diversity of viewpoints In many of my more geeky pursuits, of which gaming is just one, there tends to be a lack of women. That leads to the unfortunate tendency of labeling the person by her gender; she becomes the "woman" of the group and the views she expresses tend to represent her group. While this can be problematic in pretty narrow groups, like the "sports guy" or the "optimizer," I find it even harder to deal with when one person comes to represent about half of the population. The great part about having so many women in the room is that it becomes impossible to label women by their gender. We have to look beyond their gender to find their unique trait. As a result, the diversity of opinions and viewpoints among women really comes to the forefront. To me, as someone who works and plays in male-dominated spheres, that was freaking awesome. The con had about 1500 attendees and with approximately 70% of the attendees being women.
  • To see women presented as experts and leaders In technology and gaming, it feels that women tend not to be out there in leadership roles. At something like Geek Girl Con, they need to be. In addition, at least in US society we often undervalue the contributions of women or think they are incapable of doing things. For instance, in Bossy Pants, Tina Fey discusses a number of stereotypes about women that she had to actively work against including a belief that women could not be funny or that you couldn't put two women comedians out on the stage at the same time. Sometimes similar tendencies crop up in the geeky hobbies. Often, many of the women work behind the scenes, not getting the spotlight for their contributions. Having them step out into the spotlight and show that they know their stuff and are comfortable in their own skin helps change this perception among elements of geekdom that women aren't in geeky pursuits or that they can't hold their own against their male counterparts.
  • To learn about some pretty awesome books, movies, and projects I have to admit, I hadn't heard of Ink-Stained Amazon before the con. I went to the panel by Jennifer Kate Stuller and it was really good and I can't wait to buy her book, Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology. Womanthology also presented at the con.
  • Building networks One thing that often gets overlooked in the discussions of how to get more women into designing is how people get encouragement to put themselves out there. Among my friends who work for gaming companies, I hear a lot of informal encouragement such as "Well, my buddy from high school or college or the guy I hang out with happens to work for the company and encouraged me to apply." In my experience, those groups tend to be more single sex and since many of the designers and developers currently are men, sometimes it's harder for women to break in. Of course, there is a lot of human nature to this, why would you want to work with complete strangers when you can work with friends, but encouraging expanded friendship circles through a con like this seems awesome to me.

Sure, there were some downsides to the con. As a first year con, they had some issues with logistics. Since most people had to pick up their badge the morning of the con, the lines were long. Also, walking between the two main areas made it hard to get to panels on time. Some of the panels were hit and miss. I went to the women of Star Wars panel not realizing they would focus mainly on costuming and parts of the Expanded Universe, which while cool, isn't really my thing. The gaming and exhibitor rooms were pretty small.

I also noticed a lack of gaming companies represented there, which, I have to be honest, made me a little sad. I would have loved to see a panel with women who work in the tabletop industry talk about their experiences and answer questions. Although I missed out on attending it, I loved that there was a Bioware panel and its existence felt like a warm, welcoming hug.

Finally, I wish there were more areas to break out and form ad hoc groups and panels. Among the tech conferences I go to, a favorite thing is "Birds of a Feather" groups. Basically a few rooms are left open for groups to sign out as they desire. If a group wants to get together to talk about say, tabletop gaming or finding and encouraging female artists, they can totally do that. The informal setting sometimes works better for certain topics and gives groups that form during a panel to go to continue the discussion.

Personally, it was awesome seeing a bunch of people, including Logan Bonner ( @loganbonner ), Susan J Morris ( @susanjmorris ) , Liz Smith ( @dammit_liz ), Mike Robles ( @michaelrobles ) and Erin Evans ( @erinmevans ). I also met up with Cathé ( @gamermom1_0 ) and Tim ( @timsmartini ) Post and their adorable daughter who is now my BFF. Meeting Meris ( @merismullaley ) (also my host for the weekend), Michelle, Genevieve ( @thestormycellar ), Tanis, and Jennifer was really awesome. Overall, the best part of the con was just meeting and seeing people while we discussed what happened in the panels. I really enjoyed my time there and hope to go next year.

You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'

It's easy to dismiss concerns or criticism about rules changes, proposed or implemented, as being a grognard, especially in D&D. "You don't like it because it's different," they'll say, "but you'll just buy it in the end." But my understanding is that with the current state of things, and particular with the Legends & Lore articles, we're supposed to talk about it. It's their way of getting community feedback, good or bad, on what they are working on.

Now I reacted pretty strongly to the most recent Legends & Lore article, Magic and Mystery. Twitter can be great about many things but a nuanced discussion of the issues is often difficult in the space of 140 or so characters, especially when having a discussion with particular people, meaning you have to put their twitter handles in with whatever you're trying to say.

So, now that I have a bit more room, let me first say that I'm in favor of the idea of removing magic items from character advancement. I fully acknowledge that the 4e system made it more difficult to run particular types of campaigns. It's also an issue I've discussed before. I love the inherent bonus system, although it doesn't fix this completely, and just felt we needed more guidance on how to use it properly. I also love the new rarity system on magic items to give a DM guidelines about what might be available and what might not be. Again, it's not perfect, but it does attempt to address some of the issues with the current magic system.

However, whatever rule system we put in place, I would love it if more guidance was provided, especially for newer DMs. When I started DMing, I didn't realize that the 4e system required magic items as part of advancement. Given the story and the group, this meant I didn't hand out as many magic items as I should have. While we didn't advance far enough for this problem to become apparent, it wasn't a big deal. But it would have been nice if things were stated a bit more explicitly.

So, it's not the suggested rule change that made me react strongly. I'm in favor, and have been in favor of it for over a year. It's the larger context of the article that made me wonder if I was being trolled by a well-known and well-loved D&D designer and whether or not I should continue to read the articles.

Instead of laying out the issues, the article states that players want a particular type of magic experience from D&D, one in which magic is mysterious. It then goes on to propose that the reason magic is no longer mysterious is that items can no longer do wild and crazy things, in part because they are part of character advancement and also because they are available to players in the form of lists.

Missing from the discussion are the reasons why the system evolved that way. Prior editions where magic wasn't as well codified as 4e had their issues as well. DMs, maybe as a way to bribe their players or under the mistaken impression that adding more cool factor always makes games cooler, frequently gave more magic items than they really should have. They then would try to take those items away from the players, who by that point, thought the DM was playing with them. Trust eroded and the game would become less fun. I personally know of one group that TPK'ed their characters because the game ceased to be fun. (See Monty Haul)

In addition, the old way required DMs to know about the magic items available and put pressure on them to keep up with the books. One of the things I loved about 4e is that each player could tell me what he or she might like and I could keep an eye out for the items that I thought they might want to have. I didn't invest in the Adventurer's Vault series because as a DM, I had enough other stuff to do. I don't want to spend my valuable planning time keeping up with every magic item out there. I just don't. It doesn't mean other DMs don't enjoy it. It just means that there are arguments for allowing players to know what magic items exist and that there isn't one default experience or desire in this area.

Furthermore, there are other just as likely reasons why magic is no longer mysterious that are never explored in the article. After 30 years of playing with magic getting by and large the same treatment, how can it be mysterious for that player? Who is to say that it's not mysterious to the new player who came to the game for the first time within the past two or three years. Maybe there are parts of the magic system that we want to be mysterious and crazy, like the aftereffects of the spell plague in the Forgotten Realms or an artifact lost to the world for thousands of years, but other items, like common spells and prayers should be, well, known.

Rather than seduce us with nostalgia or bash on players for, gods forbid, salivating over an item that perfectly fits their character concept, perhaps we should explore these issues. Also, I find it a bit difficult to talk about solutions to the magic problem only with people who primarily DM. Regardless of which book the magic items end up in, they will have to know about them in the sort of intimate detail that makes mysterious harder if not impossible. Anyway, that's where I'm coming from.

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