One D&D, Playtest Packets, and Cheering the F*** Up about it

You will have noticed, I’m sure, that Wizards is working on a new edition of D&D — more of an upgrade than a complete overhaul, and they’re talking about backward compatibility, so we can hope for some decent continuity from our old content to the new one.

A lot of the chatter I’ve seen on the various platforms that look at the playtest packets we’ve been given so far has been pretty negative — but I think that has a lot more to do with the way negative voices seem to get more attention in this algorithm-driven marketplace than any real consensus that the changes are bad — frankly, I love a lot of the things they’re pitching, and even the things that seem a touch wobbly are great evidence that the design team is looking at key problems that we have with the game and are trying to solve those problems.

I’m certain that a lot of the need for a revision to the core game is driven by a desire to move forward with efforts to modernize and clean up old, bad ideas of race and determinism that have existed in the game since its inception. It’s a good thing. If you don’t think it’s a good thing, swipe left. And then, after you swipe left, remember that my blog isn’t a dating app, and just go away.

But beyond the need to clean up those problems that have been baked into the game since its inception, we can look at some of the other things that they’re demonstrating an interest in fixing — and how they’re going about fixing them.

For today, let’s just take a look at inspiration and the variations that we’ve seen them play with so far.

In 5e, inspiration is a great idea that has some problems in play. It’s an adaptation of an idea that exists in other games that use hero points or bennies or fate points — a sort of game mechanic that allows players to try to bend the odds of the game in a way that suits their interests — in hopefully a narratively interesting way. The way it’s designed is nice and clean and simple, but it runs into problems in execution:

  • Inspiration is awarded very inconsistently, from one table to the next. I know that as a DM I almost never award inspiration — I just don’t remember to do it, it’s not a reasoned position.
  • Inspiration is less useful for spellcasting classes. Martial and skill-monkey classes make d20 rolls all the time, but most spells are resisted with saving throws rather than executed with active rolls, so inspiration makes less difference to spellcasters
  • Lots of people use it wrong, treating it as a re-roll instead of a proactive decision to give oneself an advantage — this happens so much that a lot of people think it IS a re-roll.

So, if those are the problems that we’re trying to solve, are the changes that we’re seeing going to fix that?

Awarding Inspiration

We’ve seen a bunch of different ways to approach this already in the first few packets. For example:

  • Humans get inspiration automatically after a long rest
  • The musician feat can provide inspiration if the musician plays for the party after a short or long rest
  • Award inspiration based on a d20 roll — on a roll of a 20 or a roll of a 1.

What’s true about all of these is that they award inspiration in a way that is governed by game mechanics, not DM fiat. And that’s the big takeaway here — DM’s like me can’t be trusted to reward a responsible amount of inspiration, so the game needs to take care of that for us.

The details — like whether a 20 or a 1 makes more sense as a source of inspiration — almost don’t matter. In general, I think the most important improvement that we can see here is the idea that they’re going to build in mechanical ways for PCs to pick up inspiration, and that’s an overall good thing.

So, cheer up. It’s a good thing. They’ll float a few more ideas in the next few packets, I’m sure. Think about which ones you like, and which ones you don’t. Do the surveys when they come out.

And remember, that you wake up each day with inspiration. Use it well.

Rising Again from the Grave

I’ve been a very, very, very lazy blogger.

Like, more than lazy. I checked, and my last post in this blog was long before Covid, which makes it feel like it was written at a very different time, by a very different person. But, here I am.

The landscape has changed a lot. Content about gaming feels like it’s everywhere — especially on video platforms. Is there still room for text blogging? Should I be trying to create a video channel like one of my friends (d20play), or jump into podcasting like some others(metagamers anonymous)?

The one thing I’m sure I don’t want to do is start posting on Elon Musk’s Twitter.

Thinking this way is silly — if I’ve demonstrated one thing over the past mumble-mumble years it’s that I don’t stick to this very long when I start up blogging again, so thinking very hard about it as a long-term project is silly as all hell. I’m going to focus on putting out a few thoughts now and then. Link to some resources. Share some ideas. Make some trouble. And see if anyone notices.

So, the Gnome is back. Hi.

Blades in the Dark – This Changes Everything

I’m developing a new obsession.

I tripped over some tweets by author John Harper, creator of Blades in the Dark, and that led me to his game, which has led me to the entire Forged in the Dark ecosystem.

So I bought Blades in the Dark. As an experiment I rand a session of it as a one-shot in a local Game Day. And it was…..amazing.

I’m a long time D&D and Savage Worlds game master, who dabbles in other games like Fate or Shadowrun looking for new ideas. I tend to prefer creating my own material, usually relying a lot on improvisation which is informed by hours of exploration and prep.

One of the challenges of playing with folks who grew up on D&D is trying to get them to own part of the process of creating story in the game. They are along for a ride created by the GM, and their input is passive until combat scenes start, at which point they activate and set about the work of using system mastery and brute force to kill the opponents arrayed before them.

That is such an ingrained pattern of play that we take for granted that this is the way things will be. Even some of the examples we might hold up of games where the players are very creative and inventive — like Critical Role (of which I’m a big fan), the players are not really driving. They don’t negotiate the story with the GM, they ask questions of the GM.

In Blades, the GM asks questions of the players.

The GM negotiates the challenges with the players, gets their help creating the scenes, and in a much more collaborative way, they build the narrative together as a shared experience, with equal attention paid scenes like investigation and social encounters as is paid to combat.

So, I like this game, and I’d really like to be able to play the game for a full campaign, but it’s a tricky fit for my current group — for reasons that are not at all related to the game or the qualities of my players. So I’m going to build a campaign I can run as a series of one-shots, where participants pick up the members of the “crew” and play them for a session, but the crew and the characters advance and move on from one one-shot to the next.

It’ll be yet another grand experiment. But that gives me something to write about and support here on my site, so let’s get going.

Wishing for the weekend

So, it’s almost the end of the day, and I could actually leave right now if I wanted to. And then the weekend is here.

Of course, this is the wrong weekend. There’s no game this week.

However, I have a lot of game work to do. I’m in the exciting phase, the early days of planning a new campaign where every idea is great and the potential seems limitless.  This next campaign will and Eberron campaign run with Savage Worlds rules rather than D&D.  The theory is that Savage Worlds runs “pulp” style games better than D&D, and my players are enjoying SW and aren’t interested in going back to D&D. So I’ve been working on a hack for Eberron in Savage worlds.

There’s some good work out there.  A fine gentleman named Christian Serrano has created an entire conversion document that lays out his approach to the setting — and he’s made some excellent design choices in there.  Of course, I wouldn’t be a card carrying uber-nerd if I didn’t quibble over a few things and want to make my own changes to his version, so now I have created my own.

Another change I’m contemplating is moving away from Obsidian Portal. I’ve been using their tools for quite some time now, and I like them, but they’re an added expense and I don’t think my players are getting much use out of it.  I can provide the same sort of functionality they’re getting with this site and with google docs.

So, that’s a start. It’s going to be exciting.

Restored to life

The Radiating Gnome site is coming back again. After lying fallow for a few years after getting junked up with assorted shitware, I’m going to start rebuilding from scratch.

A major focus of the site will be my gaming activities, which span several game systems.  These days I primarily run Savage Worlds, but I’m a fan of Fate, and regularly play or run Dungeons and Dragons (5e). So, as I putter around there will be content for any and all of those games.