Monday, November 23, 2009

When did we become "The Man?"

Something I noticed when I was flipping through recent D&D come our D&D characters are agents of "The Man" nowadays?

I don't have a complete collection of 4e adventures, so I can't claim to be comprehensive. But in nearly every adventure I flipped through, the PCs are either the agents of the authorities or they're acting congruent to those interests.

Where are the rebels? Where are the capers? Where are the heists?

Some of this is a natural consequence of the "Points of Light" proto-campaign. Back when we were designing it, we talked a lot about "dark points of light"--and yes, we were aware of how dumb that term sounds.

A "dark point of light" is a spot where local authority has coalesced, but it's tyrannical/pathological/evil/just-plain-mean authority. And the PCs need to go there and bust that shit up.

I don't see much evidence of PCs getting the chance to stick it to The Man in, what, a year and a half of adventures?!? So adventure writers, let's get on the case! We need to overthrow some dudes who are duly constituted authorities--but evil.

And we need some morally ambivalent stuff. Give me an Ocean's Eleven-style caper adventure where the quest isn't "Help The Man" so much as it's "Get...Paid..."

Set the wayback machine for the mid-'80s, and you'll an adventure landscape replete with plenty of "let's get rich!" adventures. Lots of moral ambivalence--why do you think there's a bank in the Keep on the Borderlands? So we can knock it over! And there's a fair amount of "stick it to the evil overlord" in there, too.

At some point, maybe we got too genteel. I don't know. But I'm tired of getting deputized by the proverbial sheriff to go and clear out a nest of bad guys. I shot the sheriff, all right? Maybe I did it just to rob the bank and burn the whole town down. Maybe the sheriff had it coming. But I'm tired of being the sheriff's monkey-boy, that's for sure.

Out of Context: Brains should be spelled with one "a." Or five.
Music: Jeff Buckley, Grace

Friday, November 20, 2009

Musings on the Nov. 17 D&D update

Last week, my former colleagues at WotC published a big patch to the D&D rules. And this was a big one--not big in the sense that any single change is overwhelming, but the accumulation of mid-range changes is...big.

Big enough that the good folks over at the Character Optimization Board have a lot of revising to do on those terrific class guides.

Big enough that, thanks to a respec from a kindly DM, my githyanki orbizard became a warlock last night. (I'm pouring out the proverbial 40-oz. for my dead bloodclaw and orb of ultimate imposition homies.)

Big enough that even if I were strictly a "civilian" D&D gamer (and not a former D&D game designer and occasional adventure author), I'd definitely pay for D&D Insider and stop buying the actual books. There are enough changes this month, spread out over enough books, that I don't think I could trust what's on the written page anymore. Each discrete change wasn't huge, but they weren't just fixing typos, either. The bulk of the Nov. 17 changes matter. They would noticeably impact play at your table.

If you've got the Character Builder and the Compendium, you're good to go. Especially if you're using something like But so much has changed in the dead-tree versions of those books. The updated, electronic version of the game is substantively different now.

I'm glad I don't have to worry about the D&D business model anymore. (And to be clear, I have zero insight into what it looks like nowadays.) It's certainly conceivable that those DDI subscriptions make up for lost physical book sales among those of us who are going the all-electronic route. Given the way game stores are disappearing from the landscape and given the way book chains are getting hammered (will there be a Borders after April?), it's clear that WotC needs new ways to get their stuff out there.

But I do know this: Opting for DDI is definitely saving me money (some of which would have wound up in WotC's pocket), and it's delivering a better experience at the table. I wonder whether the bean-counters in Renton are as happy as I am, though. 'Cause I sure would be buying actual D&D books if DDI didn't exist.

Oh, and on a side note: I'm writing a 30th-level adventure right now. God, I love the deep end of the pool.

Out of Context: Four things greater than all things are/Women and Horses and Power and War.
Music: Miles Davis, Kind of Blue