Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The problematic Ranger

+James Smith talk in this post about whether the Ranger is necessary. The Ranger first appeared in Strategic Review #2 in the summer of 1975 authored by Joe Fischer. The reason for the class was not explicitly stated in the article but anybody could what the reason for the class was....

To play the guy on the left in a DnD campaign.

The ADnD version of the Ranger class was a refined version of the one that appeared in the Strategic Review. While the abilities were similar the flavor was more woodland warrior than Aragon. Understandable given the cease and desist TSR was given a few year prior to the publication of ADnD.

However since then the Ranger has been steadily watered down, not just in terms of flavor but in mechanics. It changed to being a woodland warrior, woodland warrior with animal companion, a warrior with some woodland abilities but mostly fought with dual weapons and so on.

So it understandable why James would ask "Why is the class is necessary?"

First off let's get one thing straight, my view is that no class is necessary if it doesn't fit your setting. So if the Ranger in any of it incarnations don't fit your vision then don't include it. However a class should be a distinct from being just a fighter with some options. Especially in later editions where you have feats, and skills to customize your character. However DnD always been a kitbash of different styles of fantasy. So where can the Ranger fit?

My suggestion is double down on Joe Fischer's original vision of playing Aragon in DnD. Remember that in Tolkein Lord of the Rings, the Rangers are the Dunedain, descendants of a lost kingdom that was the home to the men who fought against the first dark lord Morgoth. They were rewarded to for their loyalty with better health and knowledge. Gifted with abilities beyond those of ordinary men. By the time of LoTR, in northern Middle Earth they were reduced to a remnant of their former glory but still dedicated to protecting civilization from orcs and other evils.

So what I would do it make the Ranger a different flavor of the dedicated warrior like the Paladin. However the Ranger are more like a fantasy Green Lantern Corp. Patrolling the frontiers of civilization for monster and evil to protect civilization. Their abilities were developed over the long centuries towards this end. While the Ranger will never be necessary it will be interesting with this.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Authoring a remake

I done several major projects so far that involved redoing an older product. My view is to try to preserve as much as possible while bringing it up to modern tastes. It is a delicate balancing act, one of the projects Dark Tower, was minimally revised and rightfully so as Jennel Jaquays pretty much wrote a classic for the ages.  The revisions for for the stat blocks and the graphics including the maps. I made only one major change to the map to clear up a confusing area and that was by separating out a sub level that was superimposed on the original.

Another was Citadel of Fire, and while I have a lot of respect for the hard work the author put into it I had to wonder why they were bothering even using Citadel of Fire it was altered so drastically to be nearly unrecognizable from the original.

My own Thieves of Badabaskor wasn't the straight copy that Goodman's Dark Tower was. I altered some areas to make the whole hang together. Now a decade later with more experience I probably could done a little better with the dungeon area. But despite that I think the Goodman version I wrote is still recognizable as the original module unlike Citadel.

So which lead me to the City-State map.

Look at this section

Notice that some building names are all caps and other are normal mixed case. In this instance I elected to follow the original as created by Bob Bledsaw Senior. However a good case can be made that I should just goto a scheme that maximizes readability. 

So what do you think readability or preservation for this aspect of the map? 

I realize for some the answer would be yes as I colorized the original and added a lot of extra detail. But since the case of the building name could mean something so I left it as is.

Unlike the dots on the street which I knew to be Street Lamp there is no recollection or text describing why some building names are all caps why some are not. And during a survey of the original it appears almost random as to why the different building are in different cases. 

My personal theory is that since the map was created by a combination of drafting tools and using zip-a-tone fills and letters that it was done in stages. That at one point the process Bob ran out of letters and so started using another sheet that was a different case. Which was first I don't know. But from drawing the thing on the computer I can tell you Bob Sr. slaved over this .. . a lot. And to do it with x-acto knife and drafting pen is just beyond belief. 

I did it myself 15 years later than Bob and didn't come anywhere near his level of detail or quality of detail. And it was a ton of work.

So let me know what you think in the comments.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My view on the DM's Guild, Cypher System Creator, and Cortex Plus

First off WoTC's DM's Guild is no longer alone. Margaret Weis Productions has announced Cortex Plus a similar program with OBS for the Cortex engine that underlies all their games. However it doesn't give access to any their settings which makes sense as most of them are licensed.

However a lot people including +Erik Tenkar are very skeptical about the royalties the publisher are charging to be part of these program. Royalties that are on TOP of the ones that you pay to OBS to use their webistes (RPGNow, and DriveThruRPG) to release your products.

My view is that these publishing programs are a tool. I welcome them because they expand the options I have for publishing the stuff I am interested in and more important give me new alternative to ADVERTISING material of my own original creation.

Until the introduction of the DM's Guild we had these basic alternatives when it comes to RPG IP.

  • Nobody but the original company got to use it.
  • The original company setup a specific license to a third party and treated as a standard business relationship.
  • The company released some or all of their IP under a open content license.

Now we have a fourth, you can publish what you want as long as it means that some loose community guidelines are followed, that is appears in a specific store, and that we pay a specific royalty .

So far in all programs (Cortex, Cyper, 5e) the writer not the original publisher owns any original IP in the contributed work. But in all three programs the writer agree to share his work to anybody else in the program. But anybody using the writer's material won't have permission to use it OUTSIDE of the publishing program.

My feeling about the general idea is this. For all my works (Majestic Wilderlands, Hexcrawl formatted setting). None of this does anything for me. The fact that the 5e got a SRD under the OGL was a far more interest than the DM's Guild. If Cyper and Cortex had SRD under the OGL I would be looking at them as well. But they don't so they are of zero interest when it comes to content that I create.

But in the case of the DM's Guild I do have some ideas specific to Greyhawk.  A setting I have some personal attachment as it was the first published setting I ever used. I have some material that I could publish 'as is' if and when that ever get added to the DM's GUild. So it would be of benefit to me and I would get some cash. And in this specific instance, so what they charge 20%. The alternative is what? Yup there is no alternative as Wizards is never going to enter in to a business relationship with me for a license. If Cortex and Cypher had any setting that inspired me under their respective program then I would consider publishing using that program. But only if it can't be published a different way.

Another reason would be to take advantage of the visibility of the DM's Guild as a form of advertising. I am considering taking a section of the Forgotten Realms and make a hexcrawl formatted setting for it. The product would have in the back an ad for Blackmarsh and the other stuff I publish independently. In that case again so what the publisher is charging me 20% on top of OBS' royalty?

In the end the various publishing program are another option, another tool for the independent guy to use to get his stuff out there and make some money off it.

Also remember it took a few years to finally see how the OGL shook out after the initial hype. It an important part of our hobby today but is just that; an important part. It not THE hobby, and it doesn't define the hobby, just an important part that continues to have an impact (like the OSR).

Monday, April 4, 2016

Done with the City-State of the Invincible Overlord Map

After Scourge of the Demon Wolf my product release fell to nil. It isn't that I lost interest but I took on some mapping projects. Since I do this all out of my hobby time something had to give and that was the release of my own stuff. But I think you will see it was time well spent because one of the maps I was working on was the City-State of The Invincible Overlord itself!

For those who backed the Judges Guild City State kickstarter. I uploaded the first draft of the CSIO map. I am asking people there to proof it and upload their comments to a shared Google Drive folder.

It took a better part of a year working in my spare time to complete this. Bob Senior packed a lot of detail into the map.

The differences from the original are.

  • It is in color!
  • I added footpath and other detail made possible by having a color map.
  • Kept to the original otherwise.
  • Because of the scale and shape (24" by 36") I added some details to the north edge of the map. I took it from the five mile hex from the back of Wilderlands of High Fantasy. This led to the discovery of some minor details that could be added to the original the most important of which are some streams that run into the Conqueror's River.
  • Unlike when I proofed the Necromancer version, I had access to the No-Name City Blueprint during this. So I was able to resolve some confusing details from the original particularly in where various doors goes. No-name is not 100% the same there some obvious changes on the 1977 version over the No-name print.

For those of you without access to the kickstarter here are two preview images. One within the City and one outside showing the detail at full scale.