Tuesday, July 16, 2019

D&D 5e Essential Kit.

What it is?
A boxed set available only at Target for starting out with DnD 5th edition. Includes rules, aides, and an adventure.

The Details
The rules are far more complete than the DnD Starter Kit. They describe five character classes Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard up to 6th level. An addition are rules for sidekicks which clearly not only play the role of traditional hireling but also as additional adventuring companions for smaller groups. The rules go into how to level sidekicks. There are three categories of sidekicks; Experts, Spellcasters, and Warriors.

The aides include a doubled sided poster maps of the Sword Coast around Neverwinter on one side and the village of Phandelver on the other. A set of cards that are mostly magic items but also include initiative tracking, condition tracking, sidekicks, and quests. There is a referee screen, and six character sheets.

The adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak, takes place in and around Phandelver much like the Lost Mine adventure in the starter kit. In general it is a set one session quests combined with tables to determine where the adventure's antagonist, Cryovain, a young white dragon, is at when the party travels.

The quest structure comes off a bit like a video game however it also a structured sandbox. It start off with two quests available on the "job" board in Phandelver and then goes from there. The quest, the town descriptions, and the random tables governing the dragon all point the party to a confrontation with the Cyrovain and the conclusion of the overall adventure.

Honestly for something that trying to get a novice going, this adventure is well down for a potential sandbox adventure. If the referee doesn't get it right away the quest structure will keep things going in a way that fun and feels like progress is being made. For referees that want to branch out there is enough in adventure and the boxed set to do so.

I will say that most of the adventure location are fairly fleshed out. Many are  complete small dungeons or adventures.

Yeah but I am not a novice
While a bit pricey as an expansion, this in conjunction with the Lost Mines adventure found in the Starter set makes for a very nice campaign. With two primary antagonist and a wealth of locations to explore nobody is going to feel railroaded or hemmed with the combination.

And the digital
DnD Beyond is the official digital platform for D&D fifth edition. There is a lot not to like about the business model as it could "go away" at any time because all their content is hosted on their server. Thus when they go away, the content will go away.

But the app and website make looking up stuff convenient on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Very convenient as I been finding out.  Enough so that there may some merit of doing something similar with the various retro-clones of the OSR.

The DnD Essential Kit comes with two codes. The first allows you to buy the 5e PHB on DnD Beyond at half price, the second gives you the Dragon of Icespire Peak for free.

In playing around with this, I learned that you can add the DnD 5e basic rules to your app or account for free. With the Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure you get a substantial peak of how the functionality of DnD Beyond works.

Like looking up specific spells, abilities, or classes, I can quickly zero in on a location within the adventure. With the website I can also pull up images of not only the keyed map but also a player version that I can save and use with Roll20, Fantasy Ground, or print out for the table.

For example the map for a mine adventure

DM Map                                             Player Map

Overall I was pleased at the functionality and convenience but it definitely optional. My recommendation is to try the Basic Rules and above adventure if you get the Esstentials Kit and see if it is for you. I opted to get the PHB for half off as I know I would use it. I just got a smartphone and it proving far handier than I thought it would be. This just adds to the functionality of the device.

Wrapping it up.
I consider the Lost Mine of Phandelver one of the best DnD adventures ever made.  The Dragon of Icespire Peak isn't quite up to the level of the Lost Mine however it function very well as an expansion to that adventure.

The Essential Kits does way better on the rules presenting levels 1 to 6 of five different classes in conjunction with the various packaged aides. I would recommend this for anybody starting up with tabletop roleplaying.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Points of Light Borderlands and the Scourge of the Demon Wolf

Recently I was asked this question about combine two things I written, the Borderland setting from Points of Light and Scourge of the Demon Wolf.
Hey Robert, I've been reading Scourge of the Demon Wolf and it occurs to me I might want to attach it to a side of the Borderland setting from your Points of Light book. Do you have a quick thought about how you would staple the two together?

The Borderlands
For those you don't know Borderlands is one of four hexcrawl formatted setting in Points of Light. It depicts a time period when the Bright Empire was torn apart in a religious and political civil war. A conflict between factions supporting Sarrath the God of Order (Lawful Evil) and Delaquain the Goddess of Honor and Justice (Lawful Good).

In the setting the civil war has been going on for a few years. Parts of the region are divided between the faction, parts are devastated, and parts are neutral just trying to hang on.

The Scourge of the Demon Wolf
The Scourge of the Demon Wolf centers on a manor village terrorized by a pack of wolves. To adapt it for Borderlands I drew a map and recommended the following.

1416 is the Beggar Camp
1615 is the sacrifice site
1617 is the Bandit Cave in a bluff overlooking Cailly River and the swamp.

Instead of the Baron of Westtower as giving the mission I recommended that role be given to Count Travlin of Darcion. Instead of the baron's huntsmen in the stocks, it's Sheriff Melan of Saurton in the stocks

The Church of Mitra in Kensla would now be a Ecumenical Imperial Church of the four Gods with the statue of Delaquain removed. The personality of the priest remains the same. The bailiff that was killed was an agent of Divolic and an adherent of Sarrath and there is little love for him in the village.

As an added wrinkle Count Travlin is looking for leverage against the Mages of Order of Thoth in the Golden House in order to enlist their aid for Duke Divolic in the civil war. However would be more of a bonus as Count Travlin is not aware of the supernatural nature of the Demon Wolf or even the Demon Wolf exists. If made aware of the full circumstance Count Travlin would provide a handsome reward as the information would provide considerable leverage over the mages.

An alternative start is that a cleric or paladin gets a call from Veritas, Thoth or Delaquain. From the call the party starts with knowing that it has something to do with the Sheriff Melan of Saurton being thrown in the stocks in Darcion. Since the stocks are in the public square the party could question the sheriff which will lead them to Kensla and the adventure.

Once again the party will have to decide what to do with the information about how mage are connected to the Demon Wolf. Except this time they are nominally the "good" guys.

Finally a start I didn't mention earlier was that the characters were sent by the Duke of Stoneburg to Darcion to investigate why Sheriff Melan was thrown in the stocks. It would be similar to the above but without the religious overtones. Since the Duke has the support of the remnants of the old imperial church and the still loyal priests of Thoth and Veritas. The resolution of the adventure could be the foundation for an alliance between the Duke and the mage of the Golden House.

Click to Expand

Wrapping it up.
As a general note, all the Points of Light setting and Blackmarsh are part of the same loose background. Although set in different time period. Borderlands is the earliest time period depicted set during the civil war that ripped the Bright Empire apart. Wildland represents the aftermath after the collapse of the empire. While Southland and Blackmarsh are set in later centuries during the rise of the Grand Kingdom.

The settings of Points of Light II are also set during the Grand Kingdom period. They focuses on the expansion overseas to the New World of the setting and the colonial rivalry between the Grand Kingdom and the Ochre Empire.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A D100 OGL Carol

Appreciate the feed back on a A tale of two OGLs. During the various discussions I reviewed the various D100 based System reference Documents that Mongoose put out.

And there is an issue.

A recap to understand my next point.

Mongoose has released open content for a RPG using d100 mechanics in three products.
  • The Runequest System Reference Document. 2006
  • D100 II System Reference Document, 2011
  • Legend Core Rulebook, 2011
In the Open Game License Section 7 reads
7. Use of Product Identity: You agree not to Use any Product Identity, including as an indication as to compatibility, except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of each element of that Product Identity. 
You agree not to indicate compatibility or co-adaptability with any Trademark or Registered Trademark in conjunction with a work containing Open Game Content except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of such Trademark or Registered Trademark. The use of any Product Identity in Open Game Content does not constitute a challenge to the ownership of that Product Identity. The owner of any Product Identity used in Open Game Content shall retain all rights, title and interest in and to that Product Identity.
The issue
Per section 7 not only you can't cite compatibility with a trademark, since trademark are also consider product identity, a strict interpretation means you can't use the trademark as part of the text. Since Mongoose lost their license to the trademark Runequest they can't grant a license to use it as part of open content.

The Runequest System Reference Document
Fails the compatibility test by having Runequest as part of the title, and fails the use of product identity test by referencing Runequest numerous times in the text.

The D100 II System Reference Document
Does not mention Runequest at all until Section 15. Which also the very last bit of text in the SRD. D100 II SRD cites three release by Mongoose. The Runequest System Reference Document, the Runequest Companion System Reference Document, and the Runequest Monsters System Reference.

Shades of Gray vs Crystal Clear
The reason to make this distinction is that if you want to publish something using open content without the advice of attorney then the open content has to be crystal clear. A major point of the OGL is make it easy for people to understand they are allowed to use.

The first SRD, the Runequest System Reference Document, clearly has issues in whether it crystal clear to use it open content. The second one, the D100 II System Reference Document, was a lot harder a call on.  It Section 15 "using Product Identity or citing compatibility" as Section 7 state? 

The common sense answer is doesn't violate either provisions. There is an issue that the presence of the three citations means that the open content of the D100 II SRD is based on part on the open content of three documents that Mongoose no longer has the license to give permission to use. Thus tainting the open content of the D100 II SRD despite it not using any of Runequest or Glorantha IP and being Mongoose's original work. 

However luckily for fans of D100 RPGs, the open content of Legends has none of the above issues. And with the core rulebook having been expanded with the open content of the "Legend of" series, you are not missing out on anything found in 

Gore and OpenQuest
The Gore RPG by Dan Proctor along with OpenQuest and OpenQuest II by Net Newport both cite one or more of the Runequest SRDs. In the long run they may to be fixed by only using the open content of the Legend RPG. 

Wrapping it up
Upon reflection, if I was in Chaosium shoes I would have an issue with the original Runequest System Reference Document. Trademarks are valuable and with it being part of the title in the text would cause numerous issues with dealing with third parties.

I think complaining or taking legal action is going out on a limb with the D100 II SRD. Runequest not referenced in the title or the main body of the text. The only part where Runequest makes an appearance is in Section 15. Going after folks that used the D100 II SRD just make Chaosium look like bullies.

I recommend for future projects based on the D100 mechanics is to use the open content of the Legend Core Rulebook, and to the various Legend of  line for additional content. That way it is crystal clear. 

If you have any doubts then please consult an IP attorney. However just be aware you may have to walk them through what open content and what open content licenses are. IP attorneys first instinct is to give advice that either protect your material to greatest extent allowed by law, or to protect from any possibility of lawsuits. 

The key question I found to be useful is "This is my understanding of what this means, and this is what I want to do. I am correct? Or am I missing something?". I consulted with an attorney prior to publishing as Bat in the Attic Games as I was starting out as a licensee of Judges Guild and also using the open content of Swords and Wizardry

Monday, July 1, 2019

A tale of two OGLs

Once upon a time Wizards of the Coast released the Open Game License and made the text of the D20 System Reference Document open content.

And the hobby and industry had a fit. At the same enthusiastically embracing it. Since then a variety of RPG material has been released as open content. Along with those that have negative view of the use of the Open Game License.

That dynamic is still in play in the hobby and industry.

Traveller and Cepheus
In 2008, Mongoose release Mongoose Traveller. It was accompanied by a System Reference Document, and a trademark compatibility license. Along with a license and outline of the Foreven Sector that was part of the Third Imperium setting. The Foreven license allowed 3PP to create content for the Third Imperium as long it was set in Foreven. The Traveller SRD was expanded to include material from Mercernary and High Guard.

Then in 2016, Mongoose released a 2nd edition of their Traveller RPG. It did not have any open content under the OGL. In addition both the traveller compatibility license and the foreven license were sunset.

It is important to note that Mongoose didn't and can't sunset the open game license for any open content they released.
4. Grant and Consideration: In consideration for agreeing to use this License, the Contributors grant You a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license with the exact terms of this License to Use, the Open Game Content.
In the place of the compatibility license and the Foreven License, Mongoose worked with Onebookshelf to setup a Community Content program for Mongoose Traveller 2e 3PPs called the Traveller Aid's Society. Moreso this program open up the entire Third Imperium setting for 3PPs.

The restriction was that any works could only be published on the site, and once published they have to part of the site forever. They could be removed from sale but you couldn't pull the work and sell it elsewhere even with the Traveller IP scrubbed.

A problem was found in the license that all OBS Community Content program share. A clause stating that any derivative work also can only be posted to the site.  This meant that if Gypsy Knight Games had posted their Clement Sector setting to the TAS site, their setting IP was forever locked in to the Traveller Aid Society.

This was unacceptable to most of the Traveller 3PPs in 2016 when the program was created. At first the various publishers continued to use the Mongoose Traveller 1st edition SRD and removed the compatibility logo. Similar to what happened when the D20 Logo license was sunsetted by Wizards.

Then in the summer of 2016, Jason Kemp created a Traveller clone called Cepheus. Some of it is his original work the rest is material culled from the following list.

  • High Guard System Reference Document, Mongoose Publishing
  • Mercenary System Reference Document, Mongoose Publishing
  • Modern System Reference Document, Wizards of the Coast
  • Swords & Wizardry Core Rules, Matt Finch
  • System Reference Document, Wizards of the Coast
  • T20 - The Traveller’s Handbook, Quiklink Interactive
  • Traveller System Reference Document,  Mongoose Publishing.

Runequest and Legend
In 2006, Mongoose released Mongoose Runequest after licensing the trademarks and Gloranth setting from Stafford's Issaries. This too was accompanied by open content under the OGL and a trademark compatibility. It represent Mongoose first major stab at doing this outside of their previous work with the D20 SRD. In 2010, a 2nd edition was release along with as updated system reference document.

After losing the trademark and Glorantha IP license in 2011, Mongoose scrubbed their rules of any Glorantha IP and released it as the Legend RPG. There was no system reference document as the text of the entire book was declared open content. Mongoose also expanded the amount of open content for the RPG through the Legends of ... series of book.

Meanwhile, the authors of Mongoose Runequest II formed their own company Design Mechanism and licensed the Runequest trademark and Glorantha IP from Stafford. Coming out with Runequest 6th edition in 2012.
Edit: I was made aware that Design Mechanism never licensed the Glorantha IP. There were plans for Adventures in Glorantha but the deal fell through.

But the story doesn't end there. In 2015 Chaosium runs into trouble. Stafford, and Peterson two of the original people involved decided to return and take a active hand in the business. A new team was formed. With Stafford's return, Chaosium regained the license for Runequest and Glorantha. The license with Design Mechanism was sunsetted and the two authors were forced to rebrand as Mythras.

What happen with Traveller
At first there was a bit of a uproar among the Traveller hobbyists, however this was quickly settled by Marc Miller when he authorized the creation of a Cepheus Engine subforum on the official Traveller forums. While not quite an official stamp of approval, Cepheus now had a place within the Traveller community. 

Cepheus compatible material has continued to expand and cover quite a bit of science fiction unrelated to the Third Imperium setting. Both Mongoose Traveller 2nd edition and Marc Miller's own Traveller5 continue to be worked on and have fans among the hobby. In short the Traveller hobby is thriving in a variety of areas.

What happen with Runequest
Despite losing their license Pete Nash and Lawrence Whitaker continued to release material for Mythras. They both well respected for the quality of their work. 

There are few people using the Mongoose Runequest/Legend Content like OpenQuest over on D101 Games. But third party based on the three SRD that Mongoose released are scattered among different tags and are often mixed in with other system like Zweihander. From reading the various related forums the 3PP using open have not be embrased by BRP hobby.

In fact Chaosium is actively discouraging people from using any of the release by spreading uncertainty and doubt. This is from their FAQ.
Q: Is there a System Reference Document (SRD) for Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, Magic World, the Basic Roleplaying system, Pendragon, or 7th Sea?
A: No.
Q: Can I rely on the Mongoose RQ SRD to publish material?A: No. Mongoose’s license for RuneQuest was terminated in April 2011. At that point, Mongoose lost all rights to continue using the RuneQuest trademark, or to create and publish material derivative from the previous copywritten material, or to issue any sublicenses based on that agreement. Since Mongoose no longer had any rights to RuneQuest, it has no ability to issue a third-party license to that material (which is all an OGL is). 
Everything up to the last sentence is accurate.  The problem is that Mongoose didn't release anything as open content based on the trademark and Glorantha IP they license. Mongoose created that themselves undoubtably relying on their knowledge of IP law and their attorney to come up with a system that was similar to that of the original Runequest and Basic Roleplaying System.

That they had right to release under any license they choose and did so as Legends RPG. The entire text of which is open content.

Chaosium compounded this by posting this on their official forum.
To the extent someone has made an original work that is not legally derivative of Chaosium's IP, of course they have the right to do with it as they will, including issue a perpetual OGL. That's the WotC OGL - WotC owned D&D outright and could do with it what they wanted, including issue perpetual third party licenses. However, Mongoose's license for RuneQuest was limited in duration. You can't license to others more than you actually have. So when their RuneQuest license was terminated, any licenses they issued under that license died with it.
Edit: I wrote further on the details of the various Runequest SRDs in A D100 OGL Carol

Wrapping it up
For a long time the dynamics of 3PP with Traveller and Runequest was the same. There was a dominant publisher or two that the majority of hobbyist looked to for new material. There a few 3PPs but most labored in the shadow of the dominant publisher.

The situation with Runequest continues to be like that with the major exceptions of Design Mechanisms and D101 Games. However with Traveller the fiasco with the TAS Programs was a kick in the pant to 3PPs. Provided just enough of jolt to have somebody finally get a legal traveller clone together and release.

I sincerely hope that Chaosium does not take the step of issues DMCA notices. Along with  cease and design notices. On the flip side, hobbyists who are fans need to release that the BRP RPGs that Chaosium rely heavily on their setting IP, Glorantha and Cthulhu. Those settings are a crucial part of their appeal.

While Cthulhu may be public domain, the stuff that makes Call of Cthulhu take on the mythos unique is not. All the things I mentioned about SRD and open license are easiest used for one's own original idea or setting. Otherwise I would talk to an IP attorney if want to so something involved with Cthulhu.

I hope you found this informative. 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Majestic Wilderlands has gone gold!

It did take ten years but the Majestic Wilderlands has finally achieved Gold status on DriveThruRPG.

As thanks, I am offering the Majestic Wilderlands for $1 over print cost. And half off for the PDF for the holiday week.

PDF Discount $2.99
Print Discount $4.99

The supplement is compatible with Swords and Wizardry and other editions of the worlds first and most popular roleplaying game.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Skills, Abilities, Attributes, and Classes in classic D&D

JB over on B/X Blackrazor has posted some strong opinions on ability checks and skills. It stems from the following
 But for the game I play (and, sure, I understand not everyone plays as I do), I feel that a character's class IS the bulk of the character's training...that's where the emphasis should be and ability scores a minor consideration as far as representing a character's "skill."
That is an approach the could work but what going on here?

It about that players can do more than fight, cast spells, turn undead, etc as their characters. They can sneak past a guard, open a locked chest, or weave a basket.

What important is not which is approach is right. It about what works with one's campaign. Because of my circumstances I opted to come up with an ability system.

Going back to OD&D 3 LBBs we have three character classes, Cleric, Fighting-Man, and Magic User along with mechanics to handle combat, spell casting, and a few other things like turning undead. But suppose a character wants to sneak past a guard, open a locked chest, or weave a basket for that matter?

 The 3LBBs imply that the player describe what they are doing and the referee makes a ruling based on the circumstances and what been established about the character. This interpretation is supported by this anecdotes from back in the day. However the various anecdotes and few pieces of documentation (like Judges Guild Ready Ref sheets, Strategic Review) display widely varying methods of adjudicating this things. Some use attributes, some use an arbitrary chance, other account for class and level. Some use %, 3d6, or 1d20 roll low or high.

However there are some common elements among those accounts of using 3 LBBs. The most important is that outside of combat, and spell casting, any character can attempt any action. All three classes can try to stealth past the guard, try to open the locked chest, or try to weave a basket. But it up to the referee to decide on the mechanics of adjudication.

One way is to based it primarily on class and level with some modifiers based on attributes as JB does in his campaigns. His post states the reasons why.

I opted it to handle it a different way. My view is that any character can attempt any action outside of class specifics. That some classes are better than other classes at certain abilities. That attributes are important to determine how good a character is at certain abilities. That like combat, and spell casting not every class or individual character is equally adept in these abilities.

The result is the ability system as outlined in my Majestic Fantasy Basic Rules.

Related to this is my decision to ditch the thief class in favor of a series of Rogue classes. What distinguish the Rogue from the Cleric, Fighter, and Magic User, is that they are better at various abilities than other classes. For example the Burglar class in the basic rules is better at climbing, eavesdrop, legerdemain, perception, and stealth.

Because I had no issues with players trashing my setting as they tried to become kings or magnates I to deal with a player attempting a lot of different things. The climb to power required the players to do more than just fight or cast spells. Adventures and exploration were important in my campaign but often they were just the means to the player's end goal of rising to the top.

Wrapping it up
That why I decided to do things differently from JB. Again what important here isn't that you handle this in a particular way but that you think it through, that the result fits what you want out of the campaign, and that it is fun to play.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Harnmanor PDF on sale for 99 cents!

Back when I started out playing RPGs in 1978, I appreciated Traveller's trade rules. It got a lot done with a simple and elegant design.It had details but not a overwhelming number of them. And it felt right for what it was trying to emulate.

By the mid 80s, I was using Judges Guild Wilderlands and I was wishing for to add details for running estates as several PCs had their own demense in the campaign I was running.

Then came along Harnmanor. Which like the Traveller Trade rules had details about running a medieval manor but presented them in a simple and elegant design. The best part of the mechanics isn't the rules for figuring out the income and budget of the manor, but what happens to the estate and the tenants over the years. It very good at creating challenges that bring running a manor to life.

So right now Columbia Games is having a sale on Harn stuff on DriveThruRPG and Harnmanor is on sale for 99 cents. Even if you don't use the mechanics it packed with information on the details of medieval manor and those who live there. It also include four different manors fleshed out in detail.