Archive for February, 2012
Huh…for some reason, I find it somewhat intimidating to actually sit down and type up a post on the new site. Which might have something to do with breaking 100 hits in a single day for the very first time, largely thanks to a link from Hack & Slash. Hello new readers! Hope you’re enjoying yourselves.
I’m Pathfinder player and a Paizo fan. I think that much has been made pretty clear on this site. I am also a firm believer in being open about criticism. Criticism drives improvement. If we don’t criticize the things we love, then any changes made to what we love will be based on the criticisms of someone else. Besides, no one who is genuinely interested in creating something they can be proud of ever shies away from good criticism. On the contrary, it’s a highly sought upon treasure. When I ask someone to critique my writing ninety-nine people out of every hundred will tell me it’s “great.”
I know it’s not great. I want it to be great. That’s why I asked you to tell me why it’s not great.
Last week, I criticized modern game developers for failing to include any time management in their games. A criticism which ended up going on so long that it spawned a follow up post that same week. In the past, I’ve also criticized modern game designers for the lack of information on hex mapping. These are just two amongst a sea of criticisms I have for Pathfinder and the various modern iterations of Dungeons and Dragons. The common thread which connects these two criticisms, though, is that both of them used to be part of the game, but were dropped for no cogent reason I can discern.
Unfortunately, there are numerous game elements like this. Mechanisms which have, for whatever reason, fallen out of use. I’m sure it always sounded like a good idea at the time, and that’s okay! Elegance of design is important, so if a game’s developers thought they were streamlining gameplay by dropping superfluous systems, then good on them. But in many cases it seems to me as though they were wrong, and ought to start reversing their mistakes. I’ve already written on the topic of time management and hex maps, here are a few other gameplay mechanics which RPG designers used in the old days, and which modern RPG designers really ought to be talking about.
Have I mentioned I like rogues? Because I like rogues. I play so many rogues, that the one time I didn’t play a rogue, I had to multiclass into rogue, because my GM was conditioned to fill his adventures with opportunities for sneaking and lockpicking. I’m trying to branch out into other classes, but rogues will always have a very special place in my heart.
Part of the reason I love rogues as much as I do is their reliance on a large variety of skills, most of which are not well suited to combat. At least not face-to-face, even-steven, Combat As Sport style combat. Rogues function best when you’re not quite sure what they’re doing. If they just ran behind a tree, you don’t know if they’re trying to lure you into a trap, retrieve a hidden weapon, disappear into the bushes, climb the tree so they can leap down on you from above, or something entirely different which you haven’t even considered. Any class can play this way, but it is a rogue’s specialty. And it’s a play style which is severely hampered by D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder’s “360 degree field of vision.”
Characters in these modern incarnations of tabletop RPGs are not considered to be “facing” in any particular direction. They are always looking all around them at all times. No matter where you’re standing relative to a character, you are in that character’s full view, unless there is something between you. The idea was to simplify combat, which seems rather silly, since D&D 3rd edition added a number of largely superfluous rules.
In fairness, combat facing has not been completely neglected, but an optional rule in a supplemental book is not good enough. This should be part of the core combat system, no question.
Wizards Learning Spells at Random
A couple months ago, I wrote a post about an alternative to the current methods by which Wizards learn spells in Pathfinder. I’ll freely admit it’s not one of my better posts, but give me a break. I was severely sleep deprived and wrote the whole damned thing in a rush before work. My hope was that by removing the Wizard’s ability to automatically learn two new spells upon leveling up (and placing a larger emphasis on other methods for learning spells) we could partially overcome the vast power gap between casters and non-casters which has plagued this generation of games. I still think it’s a solid idea, but shortly after posting it, -C of Hack and Slash informed me that balance was less of an issue in older editions because Wizards didn’t get to select which spells they would learn, but rather, learned new spells at random each level.
I hold to my initial reaction upon learning this: that it doesn’t make any sense, but it sounds incredibly awesome. On the one hand, it seems silly to me that a Wizard would ever not be aware of what he or she was studying. Wizards (or “Magic Users” in the more traditional terminology) are scholars, they learn magic through something akin to the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, experiment, theorize. So if a spell which a wizard has mastered is a “Magical Theory,” shouldn’t they figure out which spells they’re working on in the “observation” or “experimentation” stages?
That having been said, there’s an undeniable charm to the idea. Being thrown a completely random grab-bag of spells, and then being forced to figure out how to use them most efficiently, sounds fun to me. I doubt future incarnations of Pathfinder will revert back to randomly determining spells. Nor do I think they should. But it’s certainly something which we should be talking about. Maybe as a house rule, or perhaps something which we could use for the sorcerer, to further differentiate it from the Wizard.
Incidentally, there’s an entire post about this issue over on Hack & Slash.
Monster Activity Cycles & Diets
These are extremely minor, which makes it all the more strange that I even need to talk about them. In old editions of Dungeons and Dragons, each monster had both an “Activity Cycle,” and a “Diet” listed in their stat block. The purpose of these is pretty simple. The activity cycle let GMs know when a creature was active. If it was nocturnal, the GM knew not to have it attack during the day, if it had an activity cycle of “any,” then the GM knew it didn’t matter, and so on. In most fantasy books or films, night is a particularly dangerous time when particularly vile monsters are on the prowl, so it makes good sense for GMs to be aware of when monsters can be active. The diet of a monster is, of course, what they eat. Also useful, since herbivores are unlikely to try and eat adventurers, yet may still pose dangers for other reasons.
I wouldn’t say that either of these rank high enough on the “usefulness” scale to qualify Pathfinder as severely flawed for lacking them. However, I can see no reason not to include them. If the choice is between knowing when my players are in danger from trolls, and knowing which feats a typical troll has, then I would much rather know the activity cycle.
Experience Points based on Gold Pieces
Now, personally, I’m a fan of my Simple XP system. It has improved my game by an immeasurable degree. But if we’re going to be using large experience point rewards, why not use the original system wherein 1 gold piece granted a character 1 experience point? I’ve never personally played with this system, nor have I researched it in great detail, but on the surface it seems simple and logical. If experience points are a measure of the useful experience your character has gained, then why do we only really receive it for defeating monsters? If the goal of adventuring is to find treasure, then we should reward equally all methods of acquiring that treasure. The group who cleverly sneaks around a monster, or convinces a less intelligent monster to give them the treasure freely, deserves just as much credit as the group who kicks down the door and stabs everything around them until there’s nothing left between them the shiny shiny gold.
More Supplements for Game Masters
Looking over the various first edition Dungeons and Dragons stuff I’ve got, I notice that very little of it is aimed towards players, most of it is aimed towards GMs. Whereas when I look at my extensive collection of D&D 3rd edition and Pathfinder books, I notice that most of them are geared primarily towards players.
It makes good business sense, really. For every GM, there are what? An average of three players? Four? More? There are more potential customers for a player’s handbook than there are for a dungeon master’s guide. I’m sure the shift in priorities has made a lot of money for the developers of these games, and that’s cool with me. I would never ask a company to focus on a less-profitable demographic simply because it is my preference. Though I would question whether or not it is a more profitable demographic. In my experience, Players own the core rules, and mooch off the GM for everything else.
But even if it is more profitable to market to players, I’d like to see more books for Game Masters out there. Pathfinder has taken a step in the right direction with their excellent Game Mastery Guide, which is easily my favorite Pathfinder supplement thus far. I’d like to see them take it further with a Game Domination Guide, then perhaps a Game Supremacy Guide.
Remember this, Paizo: the collective of Game Masters are 100 times more effective than any marketing department. We’re the ones who find new players, and draw them in. The better we are at running games, the happier our players will be, and the more likely that they’ll purchase your products.
Are there any other oldschool game mechanics you’d like modern game developers to be learning from? Let me know in the comments! If nothing else, I can better educate myself.
16 Comments »
Posted by LS on Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 at 12:45 am
Categories: Old School Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder
Tags: OSR, System Critique
If you’re reading this, you’ve made it! Welcome my friends, to Papers & Pencils! The new website has all the posts and comments from the old site, and I won’t be slowing down at all moving forward. I’ll continue writing and posting on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Weekend schedule. So please update your links and bookmarks, and for those who link to my blog, or any of my specific posts, on their websites, I would consider it a personal favor if you updated your link to redirect here. However, if you don’t, I will be leaving up the old site indefinitely as an archive. So links to old content will remain good–there just won’t be any new content over there.
I must confess to a bit of nervousness taking this site live. I’ve been designing websites since I was 14 years old, but I’ve never put one of my designs up for hundreds of people to see. Not that I can take full credit for the design, most of the heavy lifting is done by WordPress, the Mandigo theme, and a number of plugins. However, I’ve spent the last three months fiddling around with the code. There’s nothing you can find on this site which wasn’t modified by me in some way.
I sought advice from a lot of people in putting this site together, and I’d like to make sure each of them receives the proper thanks for the time they spent correcting my mistakes, and giving me tips on how to proceed forward.
The remarkably talented Melanie Tetro provided me with the kickass Papers & Pencils logo and topbanner. And not only did she keep me involved in the design process throughout, allowing me to give my input on the nitty-gritty details of the design, but she was fast! The whole thing was done several days ahead of schedule, and she kept working with me to make sure I had everything I needed for several days after we were done. All for an extremely reasonable price.
Noëlle Anthony, Todd Williams, and Tim Hunting each spent a lot of time giving me detailed notes to help me improve the site’s design. I had originally made a number of design faux pas which probably would have remained in place without their advice. I really can’t thank them enough for their significant time investments, writing emails and having conversations about the finer points of web design.
Jennifer L. Davis gave me the benefit of her significant experience both as a writer, and as a blogger. Not to mention giving me a bit of legal information which I had previously been unaware of.
Pike had a lot more to do with getting this site going than she probably realizes. Not only did she spend years telling me I ought to start writing a D&D blog, but she was a large motivating factor in getting myself off my ass and actually starting Comma, Blank_ in the first place. She also saved me from weeks of work by pointing the Mandigo theme to me, which is a much better starting point for the design I was aiming for than the theme I was working with before that.
Shane S. gave me a lot of technical advice, actually diving into the way the site was coded. I am not skilled enough to implement all of the suggestions he gave me, but his input was invaluable in streamlining a few of the site’s elements.
I also need to thank Amber, Cynwise, Jeremy Dearing, Vitaemachina, Karethdreams, and my girlfriend Morrie, each of whom helped me to get this project done. Whether it was going over background images with me, letting me know my visited-link colors were off, or proof reading my posts, their contributions to the project were important. I thank you.
There’s still a lot to do, I’m sure. The website can be polished, the code cleaned up, and other improvements made. I’ll likely continue tweaking things here and there forever. And if you come across any problems, or have any suggestions for how to improve www.PapersPencils.com, leave a comment on this post, or visit the contact page to drop me a line directly.
Now that this whole deal is out of the way, I’ll return to writing about sitting with friends and pretending to be dorfs.
2 Comments »
Posted by LS on Sunday, February 26th, 2012 at 8:05 pm
Categories: Meta Blogging
This will be my final post on Comma, Blank_, because I now have my own domain! All new posts can be found at:
Comma, Blank_’s entire archive of RPG posts has been successfully ported over to the new site. I have also transferred each and every one of the post comments by hand, including links back to each commenter’s profile, because I put a high value on the feedback you, my readers, leave for me. However, no new posts will be posted here after this one. And I will not be monitoring comments on this site any longer. So update your bookmarks, feed reader, or whatever it is you use to access my writings! I consider it a privilege to entertain my readers, and I would hate to lose even a single one of you in this move.
This site has been of immeasurable value to me, and I must confess I’m sorry to leave it, even if I’ll just be doing the exact same thing on the new site. Before I started this site, I was not very happy with my life. A quick peek at the first post on the blog, entitled “Worthlessness,” (which is one of the few non RPG posts here, and will not be moving to the new site), might give you a bit of an idea of just how down on myself I was. Truth be told, that’s not even the half of it. I was struggling through more emotional distress at the time than I want to bother talking about here. Suffice to say, my life was not going well, and I had very little hope that it would ever get better.
The blog trudged along lazily through August and September. I was aiming to put up 3 posts every week, but I was failing, which was business as usual for me. In my mind, it was a foregone conclusion that eventually I’d get bored of the blog, and go back to being an “aspiring writer,” who thinks a lot about writing, but never actually does it. I felt shitty about myself, and to be honest, I should have felt shitty about myself. I have no pity for the faults in myself which are rooted in my own lack of will. During a moment of courage in early October, I decided I was going to push myself harder. I was going to get 15 posts done that month, I decided. On October 10th, 2011, while driving my girlfriend Morrie to the train station in the morning, I told her that I was going to try to put up 15 posts in October. She snickered.
“No you’re not.” she said flatly. The comment stung, and I think she sensed that. She quickly qualified her statement. “I mean, you’d have to do a post what…every night?”
Don’t judge her harshly. It was an off-the cuff response which she has repeatedly apologized for in the time since. I almost didn’t even mention that it was her who said it, but I want to make clear that this was the opinion of someone who matters to me. The comment stung. I got angry. I’ve heard a lot of writers say that a dismissive comment, or a rejection, is what motivated them to keep going. I never understood the sentiment until that day. As soon as I got to work I pulled a calendar off the wall and began marking off days. I figured I shouldn’t write every day, since that would just burn me out. I would, instead, write every other day during the week, on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. I have the weekends off, so decided I should have plenty of time both to rest, and to write on Saturday and Sunday. By that schedule of 5 posts a week, I figured out that I could have 19 posts done by the end of the month. That was plenty. Over lunch that day I started working on Magically Generating New Adventures, which remains one of my most popular posts. I started keeping tally marks for how many posts I had for the month. I was going to prove Morrie wrong. I was going to hit 15 posts. I could even skip 4 days if I wanted to.
I didn’t want to.
I kept to my schedule exactly. Even on Halloween, my favorite holiday, I was answering the door between writing paragraphs of The Problem With Feats. I tapped away at my keyboard despite a finger which I had severely burned on an ultraviolet light. Despite the fact that my hair kept getting in my face, since having it down was part of my costume. Despite the fact that I had already reached my 15-post goal. The goal didn’t matter anymore. Proving Morrie wrong didn’t matter anymore. I owe her a lot for that single insensitive comment, because without it I don’t know if I would have managed to forge the self discipline which has allowed me to devote myself so fully to this writing project.
I continued my 5-posts-a-week schedule through November, which proved harder. By the end of November I had decided two things. First, writing a Comma, Blank_ post five days a week was too much for me. I started to worry that I was going to burn out, so in December I officially dropped down to only one post over the weekend, bringing my work load down to only four posts per week. Second, I decided that it was time to devote myself more fully to the writing project. So, in early December, I did some budgeting, and some brainstorming, and registered the www.PapersPencils.com domain, and purchased two years of hosting. Yeah, I’ve been working on this for almost three months. What can I say? I’m a busy guy.
Since starting Comma, Blank_, I have missed only 2 posts, which were over the Christmas holiday. My life is better in countless ways. I feel like I’m improving myself a little bit with every word I write. And my readership is growing as well. During the month of February, there has not been a single day where traffic was lower than the corresponding day of the previous month. It kinda makes me want to continue using the old site until Wednesday just to see if the trend actually continues throughout the whole month. But, to be honest, it has been a serious pain in the ass to format everything post twice–once for Blogger, and again for WordPress. I’m eager to be done with that. Besides, in 25 days of February, I’ve already surpassed the traffic during the 31 days of January by over 200 unique hits, and broken the 1000-hit-per-month barrier for the first time. And I don’t intend to stop there. I’ve got so many plans for future projects and improvements–you have no idea.
So thank you, my readers, and everyone who has ever linked to me. Thank you to my friends on Twitter, and to my girlfriend Morrie. Thank you to -C of Hack and Slash for sending me several unique hits ever day, and to /tg/ for giving me years worth of scintillating conversation and inspiration, and to every RPG blog I’ve ever read which has given me an idea or caused me to question my preconceived notions. Thank you to my friends who play these tabletop RPGs with me, who have been very patient with me when I’ve allowed writing about games to distract me from running games. You all rock.
By the way, if you were wondering, this blog was called Comma, Blank_ because I originally envisioned it as a project “in between” the major projects of my life. The idea was that looking back, the stuff I worked on before this blog would be considered significant, and the stuff after this blog would be significant, but this blog was likely to be somewhat forgettable. That’s what I thought at the time, anyway. Thus, this blog was the comma between the things I did in the past, and the things I would someday do in the future. Ironic that it ended up becoming a project which I used to redefine who I am. For three days, the blog was actually titled simply ” ,_ ” but I started to feel like too much of a hipster douche for my own taste.
I figured I ought to tell that story, since I likely won’t get another chance.
See you on the new site, friends!
-Nick “LS” Whelan
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Posted by LS on Sunday, February 26th, 2012 at 2:33 am
Categories: Meta Blogging