I was pinning pics on my Pinterest boards and came across this image above, from a D&D 4th Edition sourcebook. It looks awesome but it made me think of what my problem with D&D is.
I see that image on the cover of a book–I see similar images on many D&D book covers–and I think to myself, I wanna be that guy in the game. I wanna be the warrior wielding a flaming sword, attacking a displacer beast, as we both free-fall, in a no-holds-barred fight! Yeah!
The problem is, when we play, this doesn’t happen.
After my last post I am due for some Githyanki Therapy, a practice I am borrowing from my friend Judd Karlman.
Judd has been playing a game of Burning Wheel (which I’ve been wanting to play for a long time) set in the Forgotten Realms (which I love) and not an update of his goes by without me wishing we had Star Trek transporters, so I could go play with him in New York and then come back home to Miami. Judd asked me on G+ if we were to play a BW game in the Realms, where and what I would like to play. My reply to him took me a bit by surprise and it leads me to my therapy post.
Hal Whitewyrm is the character that got away, the one character I really wanted to play and never got the chance to.
Hal Whitewyrm is a half-elf bard living in Highmoon[ref]Yes, this is where my online nickname comes from.[/ref], in Deepingdale, in the area known as the Dalelands. He has somewhere in his heritage a trace of weredragon[ref]In the D&D 3e edition of the campaign setting, they were renamed Song Dragons.[/ref] blood which gives him orange eyes. He’s a joyful fellow who honestly loves adventuring.
Hal is the character I created back in the early 90s, when I first started to get into AD&D in high school. He’s the character I would constantly recreate during class, the one I would write short stories about, the one who was my avatar in the world of high adventure that are the Realms. He was a shallow character concept[ref]He was originally called Daniel Stephaln Whitewyrm–yeah, talk about transposition–which then changed to Daniel Whitewyrm, and eventually to Hal Whitewyrm.[/ref] with cool orange eyes and a weredragon girlfriend who existed mostly in my 5-subject spiral notebook in story after story. And I loved it.
I just never got to play Hal. My D&D group played Basic D&D/Rules Cyclopedia and we had a fairly regular schedule, so, little time to try out new ideas. Then we played less and less, then I moved, etc. Aside from the fact that I used the name as an email address for some time, I have not gone back to this character in over a decade. Which is why I surprised myself when I answered Judd’s question about what character I would play in a Burning Wheel Realms game as follows:
* I’d play the character I’ve carried with me for years, Hal Whitewyrm, a half-elven bard with weredragon blood in his ancestry (weredragons are a race of female-only shapeshifting wyrms from the Moonshaes – see the thread there?). He’s the guy I wrote stories about in my teens yet never got to play. Hal is all about the romantic journey (as in literary genre, not mass market Harlequin titles), facing adventure in a large world, ideally of the legendary danger kind, with fast friends at his side, a love life to look forward to, and death around him to put it all in perspective. Think Aragorn’s journey, but with a bard who also deals with issues of identity.”
Wow, I’d never really put those ideas into words before but yeah, that’s what Hal is all about for me: exploring the high fantasy romantic character arc; less about killing monsters and taking their stuff, more about zero-to-hero who saves the princess and loses friends along the way.
So, what about you? Which is your character that got away? The one you always wanted to play but didn’t? And what’s their story like?
A statement from my latest post on Rebuilding Vampire about the Vampire: The Masquerade character sheet turned into an all-day Twitter discussion about character sheets in RPGs in general. It was a good series of chats, actually, but it highlighted very quickly that I was talking to two different groups of people and that what I wanted to convey about why I said what I said about the VtM sheet was not clear at all for those who lacked a certain context. This post is me trying to explain my views on character sheets and what I see is their role in an RPG. I would love it if from there we can launch a greater conversation about RPG character sheet design in general.
In 2008 I listened to episode 54 of the Master Plan podcast, in which Ryan Macklin interviewed Daniel Solis. The name of that episode, and the idea that was hashed out over the half-hour interview, was that “A Cover Is A Promise.” Briefly (and really, you should listen to the episode to get the better explanation), Daniel poses the idea that when looking at the cover of an RPG, it gives the prospective customer a solid idea of either what you will do in the game or an emotion/theme that the game will create; the cover makes a promise of what’s to be found inside and in play. That phrase has stuck with me since then, and I have brought it up in various conversations ever since because it speaks to me, and solidifies a feeling I have had about roleplaying games that I simply had no way to voice. Following that line of thought, when I think of character sheets, this is the statement that comes to mind:
A character sheet is a map.
While I haven’t been blessed with children yet, I have been given four wonderful nephews, the oldest of which just turned 12 years old. I have been waiting for this day for quite a while now, and with the blowing of the candles (so to speak) the time has arrived for me to play a part of being the most awesome uncle that I have been preparing for all my life: with the arrival of his 12th birthday, I am now introducing my nephew to tabletop roleplaying games.
Why now? I think it’s just the simple fact that it was when I was 12 that I was introduced to roleplaying games during the 7th grade; I was able to grasp the concepts of the game perfectly well by that point, so I can reasonable assume that my nephew, who I believe to be smarter at his age than I was at that time, will do so as well. He’s grown playing videogames that emulate and in some cases are influenced/descended from D&D, so I think that by now he’ll be able to put all those strands together into one thread and see how it all comes together. Lastly, that’s the recommended age on the box and hey, why not trust it?
After making the decision that it was time to begin the indoctrination, I went to Amazon.com and ordered him the new D&D Starter Set aka. the new Red Box. Why did I choose this boxed set above any other introductory product, especially considering how I’ve gone gaga over the Dragon Age RPG? Surprisingly (even to myself, I discovered), I went through a whole thought process to reach this decision.
It was one of my Gaming Resolutions for 2010 and I am getting to it with just a couple days to spare, but finally it is done. I am talking about playing Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, which I finally got to do last night thanks to Wizards’ D&D Encounters program.
I went down to one of our local game store, Sunshine Adventure Gaming, where I knew the Encounters program was running. There was only one table of Encounters running and they had space for this new player. I used a pre-generated character one of the guys had, a level 2 Dragonborn Cleric named Suntor Robe. I’ve never played a cleric and of the new 4e races, the Dragonborn always called my attention, so it was certainly a night of firsts all around. Dice in hand, Coke at my side, we set off to play the storyarc of The Keep on the Borderlands.
There were three players in addition to myself, including a father and his 7-year-old son; it was just awesome seeing this kid playing alongside the grown-ups and getting right into the game with the aid of his father. Makes me very happy and hopeful for the future of our hobby. The party consisted of my cleric, a knight, a rogue and a ranger; not a bad mix at all. During tonight’s encounter we explored a cave behind a waterfall, battled some pesky little kobolds, investigated what seemed to be some sort of temple, then faced off against more kobolds alongside another dragonborn and a wyrmling dragon. After the second fight, we stopped for the night, the whole thing taking up about 2 1/2 hours, give or take.
So, what did I think of it?
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My friend Judd Karlman has been talking both on Twitter and his blog about a new Burning Wheel game he’s started set in the city of Waterdeep, in the Forgotten Realms (FR), arguably the most detailed campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons. This, of course, has gotten me thinking about FR as well, and has brought a flood of nostalgia washing upon me, causing me to write this post where I can wax poetic about my love for this world.
Let us travel back to the last years of the Rubik’s-Cube-and-leg-warmers era and to the little island of Puerto Rico. In 1986 I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons, or more precisely to Basic D&D. To say that I fell head-over-heels for this game of the imagination would be an understatement. We played the game as much as we could, as much as 8th-graders can manage, as much as was humanly possible at our age. And given we were playing Basic D&D, all our adventures were in the Known World (later to be known as Mystara): we played through B1-9: In Search of Adventure straight through, once, twice, more. The Known World as our world far more than the real world was. But this isn’t a post about the Known World (though I certainly think one will eventually have to be written as well).
A couple years later, we finally got our hands on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) books. Getting RPG books in Puerto Rico during this time was about as difficult and exiting as Indiana Jones finding the lost ark (sans snooty French nemesis), so these were great treasures and the literal keys to even more adventures than before. Problem was, AD&D didn’t come with a built-in setting. There were a couple to choose from: my friend Braulio wandered down the road to Greyhawk, and me, I took the road leading to a brand new land just recently discovered, a placed called the Forgotten Realms.
I knew this was coming, though I wasn’t sure when. Well, it dropped today.
You can see the dedication on the preview available at the product page, which I have expanded here (click to enlarge):
So what’s the story?
On Friday I got my box from Buy.com containing the D&D 4th Edition Core Books Set and I’ve bee reading through the Player’s Handbook over the weekend. Some of my preconceptions have been corrected, but I still reserve judgement for when I’ve read them all.
I have to say I really hate that lackluster (really, the completely unexistent) marketing campaign that went into 4e. I really wanted to like this game, honestly; I like D&D, and I wanted to be excited about the new edition and whatever improvements it brought. But Wizards didn’t sell me on it, and the bits and pieces being released over blog posts, forum posts, news and cryptic articles were just not enough, and in fact damaged the whole game in my mind.
What I’m seeing so far is a very tight game focused on tactical combat (yes, I know there are other parts to it, but at page 101, all I’m seeing are tons of combat powers). It even looks kind of exciting at parts. We’ll see once I get to skills and feats how the general focus fares.
Will this game be D&D for me? At this point, no, I don’t think so, but it can still be a cool game. I actually hope it is, for what I paid for it.
I can tell you that I have already seen a few things that I will definitely change/expand:
- Dragonborn will not be mammals. This was a stupid concesion, in my opinion. In my book and world, dragonborn are warm-blooded, egg laying reptiles. The females will be differentiated by a having a more lithe build than the males, and they will certainly not have breasts.
- Halflings receive a +2 History racial skill bonus. By default they get +2 Acrobatics and +2 Thievery, which matches the (1e-3e) pre-conceived notion of halflings as sneaky bastards, but then the background goes into how halflings are nomads and collect stories and how they are so awesome at being able to know bits of lore and legend about pretty much anything they encounter. So where’s the mechanical reinforcement for that? Shoddy design work. In my book and world, they get the skill bonus to History over Thievery.
- Warlocks will get more pact choices. I like the Fey, Infernal and Star pacts in the book, but I want more out of the box. I’m going to check if there are some fan-designed pacts I can add to my notes, and if not, I’ll design a couple more.
I already have an idea for a character, but I’ll post it once it’s done.
I’m super busy getting ready for my trip to Seattle, so I won’t be doing a long post about this. Short version: the GSL sucks and I don’t see Highmoon Media using it to produce D&D 4e-compatible products in the near future. The license is horribly restricting in what I can and cannot do, reference, or develop, but the dealbrakers are the clauses dealing with OGL conversions (6.1, 6.2), with beyond-termination limitation of my GSL-released products (6.1), and the draconian sections dealing with litigation and damages (10), especially the one where you waive your right to a jury trial for any legal proceeding dealing with the GSL (19).
There’s more stuff that annoys me about it (like the fact that the license seems to put a clamp on anything I develop for 4e/GSL to be used solely for that or not at all), but it will have to wait for me to break that down further.
Honestly, I feel they should just have closed the whole game. I know some folks with use this GSL to release products, but in general, it feels like a forced participation in the idea of Open Gaming, and only in the most bitter of ways.
Wizards of the Coast continues to become a company that I more and more do not want to support with my dollars.
I miss very much the Wizards of the Coast of the Peter Adkinson years, but that’s a different post.