Putting the magic back into 4E D&D

One of my recent adventures in writing for games was for ENWorld, one of the most popular D&D and role playing game web sites. I got the assignment on a freelance writing board and my work is being published as a series of articles to promote ENWorld’s premium subscription service.

 

It’s called, I want my magic back!

 

The idea for the series was not mine, but the site owner, Russell Morrissey. The mission is to create a class in 4th edition D&D that works like and casts spells like those in earlier editions of the game. To do this the first article outlines a new class called the Vancian mage which memorizes spells much like the wizards and magic users of earlier editions. The bulk of the work is converting all the older spells into a form that works with the 4E rules, but which still feel true to their roots.

 

Mechanically the challenge has been to try and keep this new class roughly balanced with the other classes in 4E while using a dramatically different mechanic for acquiring and using powers which themselves fall outside the normal range of effects. I’ve also taken it upon myself to try and improve some on the classics and in some cases invent a few new spells to balance out the schools of magic in terms of utility and selection.

 

Stylistically the series makes pains to give the spells names and descriptions that evoke a more imaginative and less mechanical “feel.” Honestly, the styling goes beyond what you will find in the older editions. In this series every spell name lists its author and tries to be as evocative as it is descriptive. Spell descriptions are often written in character, as if the creator of the spell were describing it to a prospective student. Here is an example…

 

Wigglefoot Jr’s Involuntary Naptime                                             Rank 1
A little something I created to get my nephews to settle down so I could continue my readings but it’s surprisingly useful in combat and for very awkward social situations. A few soothing words and a pinch of sand is all you need.
School: Enchantment            Traits: Arcane, Implement, Charm, Sleep
Standard Action                    Range: 10 squares
Target: One Creature
Attack: Intelligence vs. Fortitude
Hit: Targets become dazed (save ends). If the first save is failed they fall prone and fall asleep for one hour. Sleeping targets are awakened when they take damage or if an adjacent ally wakes them with a standard action.

 

If you want to check it out, you can either subscribe to ENWorlds premium service or pick up the individual articles on Drive-Through RPG. The subscription is $3 per month and gets you various goodies while the articles are $2 a piece.

Fair warning: the art and layout on these pdf’s are pretty simple and not really to my aesthetic tastes, but I think the actual content is fun and if you subscribe to ENWorld you are supporting a good community site and get lots of other goodies there.

 

Game fans stay tuned… I’ve got some really cool Pathfinder stuff coming out soon from Open Design I can’t wait to crow about!

 

Salute to honor

In the past couple of months there were at least two people who demonstrated what I would call honor and to my benefit, going perhaps against their own material interest and without being compelled by myself, any formal rule, or personal affection. Instead they seemed motivated by their own sense of duty and fairness and I salute and thank them for it.

Whats New with Sig?

Job Hunt: I’ve been averaging at least one interview per week, which is great. While nearly all have gone well, I haven’t landed a gig yet. Competition is tough out there. I have signed up for c# development classes over the summer which should be good fun and great for honing my skills. I did my first on call Game Testing work. It’s minimum wage and it’s fairly boring, but I wanted to see how such things operate and I was engaged soaking in all the details and trying not to look foolish (since I got zero training before assigned my work).

Writing: I go the numbers for my work on Advanced Feats and I made well more on the project than anticipated. It actually looks like a real paycheck. Of course thats a two week paycheck after many months of work but its real money and that’s pretty darn cool. Also I’ve got the print version coming out so it will keep earning for me. Great stuff and a huge thanks to Open Design for great promotion and coming up with the project.

Gaming: Been playing DDO which had a new expansion, doing our podcast for the game, and dabbling in Wesnoth. I’ve got my hungry eyes on the new Deus Ex game which looks like just my cup of tea.

Life: Today while heading back from an interview my car went off the deep end. The electrical spazzed out and starting or stopping the engine has become a crap-shoot. It is not a happy car and at more than 22 years old… we don’t think its worth fixing as its likely to continue to decay. That means I’m buying a car while unemployed… hurray. It also means I plan to buy the car outright because having payments while unemployed is very risky. I do count myself lucky that I actually have the money but its still a big hit.

 

 

 

Cool Games: Battle for Wesnoth

Battle for Wesnoth is a turn based strategy game with a fantasy setting which I discovered while poking about for iPad games. On the iPhone its costs a dollar but generally its a free game you can download and play at no cost. It was created and is maintained by an open source community that clearly loves the game and has translated it into more than 30 languages and many different platforms.

When you play Wesnoth you pick one of many scenarios to play through which usually contains 3 to 30 maps or stages. Each scenario has an overarching story, sometimes with small cut scenes that string together a series of tactical battles. Each unit you recruit gets a name and can level up in various ways over time. These units can then be recruited in the next scenario (though they do tend to cost more). A key to the strategy is grooming and protecting these units as each battle tends to be more difficult than the last. Of course using these potent units constantly puts them in danger so there is definitely a balancing act.

Many of the scenarios are quite fun and there is a vast array of factions and units that keep the game interesting and varied. The production values are good, but don’t expect the flashy animations or voice acting. The design is kept stripped down to ensure that its manageable for a volunteer based development team.

All in all its my favorite iPad game and reminds me very much of my early strategy gaming passions in all the best ways. The iPad interface really works well for these types of games and I wish there were more of them around. For a buck (or free on a PC), if you at all like turn based strategy, you must try it out.

Disappointment and Resolve

It hasn’t been a great week on the job hunt. A position I really felt like I had a shot at didn’t pan out. I felt I did well in interviews and it was a good match all around, but apparently not good enough. Also, my former employer decided to appeal my unemployment decision. I think I can win that case but its a distraction to the job hunting.

 

On the bright side, an application that seemed like a hail marry pass turned up some unexpected opportunities and led to an inspiring interview with some possibility of future work My phone continues to ring occasionally with interest from the usual recruiters and interested parties so its not exactly a wasteland.

 

I take disappointment pretty well, but there is always a drag of anxiety and a struggle for self worth that comes with hunting for employment. Along side that for me is some impulse to just forge my own path and try to be in business for myself. If the interviews I’ve had with people I liked and admired, thats what they most suggest to me. While it has a great appeal, its a daunting prospect and I have always been something of a pragmatist. In the end, believing in myself, and a long history of not crashing and burning are what keeps me positive and moving forward.

 

At this point I have three viable strategies.

  1. Keep hunting until I land a decent salaried job despite my somewhat out of date skills
  2. Try to go into business for myself writing, programing, or lord knows what else
  3. Sink my savings into going to school and updating my skill set

There is always the multi-class option and trying to do more than one at a time… which is kind of my default but tends to yield rather mixed results. So far I have found I have the time and energy for about 1.5 of these strategies and am currently running 1 and half of 2. I’m starting to think 3 and half of 2 might be better so I’m going to start looking at my education options. If any of you have a vote or suggestions, I’d love to hear it.

 

 

 

 

 

Would you like fries with your decapitation?

My mind likes to form long rambling chains of thoughts where the connection from one to the next is sometimes more spiritual than logical. At some point I’ll laugh out loud and Anne will ask “OK, what is it?”

Yesterdays “inspiration” started with some talk about Oblivion, a Bathesda Elder scrolls game. Anne had been retro playing it recently in anticipation of their next release, Skyrim. I was thinking about the combat system which is one of the series weak points in some ways, it often swings widely from overly hard to exploitative easy. This led me to thinking of their Fallout games which have a different combat system, but also a bit flawed in similar respects. This led me to think of the coming Fallout MMO in development and how they might change combat there. Clearly VATS wasn’t workable for multi-player real time. My mind wandered to armor systems and trying to avoid every fall out player wearing powered armor at all times when in fact that simply made the most logical sense if you were being attacked by mutants and small nuclear weapons.

This in turn led me to consider getting blown up by said weapons and how they might handle death in a game with a wry sense of humor. I considered that being dead might be an opportunity for the game to chide you gently and perhaps share with you some strategic hints in a classic fallout style. Then, finally the idea referenced in the title came to me. They could use the opportunity of your inability to do much to show you some in game advertising. Hey, its not like you were doing anything just then right? Think of it as an in game insentive not to get yourself killed, and if the commercials were Fallout Funny, you might not even mind them so much.

Ultimately, I think it’s a bad idea. It creates an intensive or perceived intensive for the game to kill the characters as often as possible and keep them incapacitated so they can ply their eyeballs with paid adds. Still, I find it amusing and I think there is some opportunity to entertain dead players in a game that is heavy set with dark humor by torturing them just a little.

If you have any alternate death “penalties” I’d love to hear them.

Portal 2: Ya it’s really good

Yesterday Anne and I more or less declared a day off and did little other than play Portal 2. By 2am we had both beaten the single player as well as the co-opp which we tackled first.

 

Overall, we both loved it. Part of the joy of the original was… its originality and indeed much in the sequel is familiar. What it lacks in newness, it makes up for in added elements. The team play is wonderful, the more robust story is a lot of fun, and the new challenge elements add a lot of variety to the challenges. It is certainly much more a full game than its predecessor with far more puzzles, a wider range of environs, and a much richer story. That said, its still a “short” game in that you can play through it pretty quickly and replay is more limited than an RPG, Arcade or Strategy title. Personally, I prefer a shorter but richer game experience and I even though I ran through it in one marathon session, I felt like I got my full moneys worth of entertainment and challenge.

 

I did feel that Portal 2 was not exceptionally challenging and both Anne and I were rarely stumped for more than a handful of minutes. I’d like to think I’m just terribly clever, but I suspect that most won’t find it too hard unless spacial puzzles just aren’t your thing in which case…. might not be your kind of game. :)  Then again, it gave the pleasure of making me feel very clever without ever making me feel too stupid to figure it out. I think that is likely the sweet spot most game designers are shooting for so I’d call that a win. If you have never played Portal, it may be more challenging until you “get” the basic idea, fortunately the game does a great job bringing you up to speed as you play so you should find yourself feeling clever in no time flat.

 

Its very funny, more so than the first and with more characters worked into the story while still featuring lots of Glados. All of them are great! They also do a wonderful job expanding on both the world and the narrative story without slowing down the action at all. Valve is really great at story telling in action games, miles beyond a lot of other designers/writers.

 

Summary: Its a damn fine sequel and a wonderful game. Good job Valve!

 

 

Advanced Feats: Best Sellers

I like to watch over my little game products and see how they are doing, respond to readers, and generally indulge in a little internal joy at their mere existences. I was happy to discover that three of them have manged to be awarded copper sales medals at Drive Through RPG.

 

I don’t know exactly how many that is. It is the lowest of the sales awards they have, yet not all that many products I’ve looked at sport any such awards so I feel like its at least a little bit special. The three oldest books are sporting it and I hope that in time they all garner one.

Secrets of the Alchemist

Witch’s Brew

Summoner’s Circle

 

I have to say that much of the credit goes to Shelly Baur for her hard work on marketing and promoting Advanced Feats as well as for coming up with the idea of having me do feats books for them. She does a killer job for Open Design.

Movie Day

Yesterday I indulged in an epic pile of movie watching. I managed a bit of writing as well but really the majority was spent staring at the pretty pictures. Still, it was very relaxing and it was refreshing to have a slow paced day where I essentially only did one thing.

Nausica (new Disney Edition) – This is probably my favorite movie of all time. I pretty much tear up or choke back every time I watch the thing. Nausica is my hero. I can’t think of a more pure hearted and brave character in any story and the setting is one of the most unique and wondrous in any film. This time around I watched the new dubbed version. Anne found some of the stock actors annoying but I’ve never been to picky and I found the leads to be excellent. The early dialog in the movie is a little awkward, but its always been that way with Nausica talking to herself in order to introduce us to the world of the film. If you have never watched it… GET IT NOW!

Lord of the Rings – Extended Version – All 3 in a row –  I think this is the second time I’ve watched them all back to back. It is one heck of a long viewing, some 8 or more hours. It was every bit as gripping and involving as ever. It has a few slow moments and for whatever reason the pacing at the end leaves me a bit impatient, but man is it ever one epic piece of fantasy film and I doubt we will see its like again. It has a few soft spots but overall its just an amazing film and one I had always dreamed of but never expected would be made.

I also got out to see Sucker Punch – Anne did a full review of it but I have to say that I liked the movie for the most part. It didn’t have much weight to it but it has some gorgeous moments, some crazy ideas, and it is internally consistent with its vision. I think the problem is it knee caps itself. Most of the movie is the fantasy of a young girl and the depth of story and character are about what you would expect if a young girl was sitting around telling you a story she made up. While its rich with imagination, its also pretty shallow and one dimensional. The fantasy scenes reminded me of Samurai Cat, something I can sat of no other film.