D&D: 2d12

d12We were playing Iron Kingdoms last week and someone mentioned a preference for a bell curve over a flat curve. In an unrelated conversation, we were talking about how useless d12s are, and what shame, since we all like them.

I decided to pair these ideas up and rewrite D&D to work with 2d12 as the main resolution mechanic. I know, the game’s not even out yet and I’m already houseruling it. That’s a good sign for D&D.

I also included some stuff about alignment which my review group decided was an opportunity to get mouthy about the return of 3×3 D&D alignment. That threw me because of all the loopy things in D&D, how is that not just part of the loop?

I’m tempted to write in more depth about my thinking about 9-grid D&D alignment, but holy shit does anyone left on Earth care about what anyone else thinks about D&D alignment?

Anyway, here’s newstyle D&D rewired to work with 2d12. If you try this out, let me know how it goes.

2d12 D&D for the masses

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Wake the dragon. I’m Batman.

I wanted to get this post written before the new D&D freebie document went live last week. I would have seemed more prescient. But having skimmed the 5e rules, my opinions are at least validated.

The surprising thing is how unsurprising the whole thing is. Not just because they spoiled it all in their playtest period, but because it’s primarily 3e with tweaks. There’s about a thousand reviews of the new product, most of which are better than I would bother offering, so go read some of those if you want it.

Here is what no one else is saying yet: D&D has become Batman.

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Wake the dragon. The 4th Age.

So in 2008, Wizards produced 4th edition. People tried real hard to like it (some succeeded), but the general consensus was that it kind of stank. At that time, indie and retro games were on the rise, but Wizards of the Coast RPG R&D was not-just-a-river-in-Egypt about what was happening. Continue reading

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Wake the dragon. Indie + Retro.

Even before the rise of Kickstarter, electronic publishing, print-on-demand, or desktop publishing, RPGs were a thing that lots of people tried to do. Even back in the hoary days of paste-up in the ’70s and ’80s you had TSR, FGU, ICE, and several other companies that weren’t three-letter acronyms.

Not everybody who dreams of professional football or going to space gets to do it. But everybody who dreams of RPGs has a shot at being a roleplaying game designer/publisher. That has led us to 5th edition in a painful way. Continue reading

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Wake the dragon. The OGL.

D&D has had five fallow years. A new version is upon us. As with a lot of game stuff, I know more than I’m telling, but not as much as I’d like to know. I’m going to spend a few posts taking about some things I think about the state of RPGs and I’ll hazard some guesses about what’s next that, statistically, will be embarrassingly wrong. Continue reading

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A meditation on game box sizes

At work, we recently had a discussion about box sizes. I wrote a whole essay to get to my thoughts on the matter, and then, as sometimes happens, the essay was not really relevant to the final, relatively short comment. So I thought I’d put it here.

The original question was: Does the American market want big, fancy boxes? My argument was basically, no.

There are a few standout party games (Apples to Apples, Scattergories, Pictionary, Taboo… you can think of a few more) and they do come in unnecessarily big boxes. And they sell very well! From the outside it’s hard to deconstruct how much of sales is due to oversized, bright packaging. But everybody does it, so even if you think it doesn’t work, you can’t not do it, right?

Except interestingly, the big boxes aren’t so big any more. I’ve got an “updated for the ’90s” version of Pictionary that comes in a crazy size: 18″ long, 7.5″ wide, and 3″ deep. That was 20 years ago. A more recent edition shaves the length down to 10.5″ and basically leave the other two dimensions alone. I checked product specs on Amazon, and the most recent version of Cranium is 10.5″ x 10.5″ — and that’s a game full of stuff, not just air! Party games just don’t come in big, stupid boxes of air like they used to.

That’s mass market though. What about hobby market?

In the US market, they’re OK with big boxes as long as the size is justified by the contents inside. No one had a problem with Ogre in a box that measured nearly 4 square feet because it weighed 15 pounds. American hobby gamers do not want a big box for marketing purposes, just to take up shelf space or just to be “American.” For instance, Guildhall‘s box is not large. 10.5″ x 10.5″ (~26x26cm). But at AEG we got many complaints about the box size because it only contained 120 cards and some punchboard tokens. The thinking at the time was to make boxes bigger so they would stand out on a store shelf.

I see the wisdom there, but it doesn’t hold up to experience. Looney Labs is doing great with Fluxx in a small box, for example. The hardcore customers order off the internet and would rather pay less shipping for a smaller box. They’ll never see it in a store anyway. You don’t want to cater to those guys, but their money spends as well as anyone’s.

Customers also want consistency within a line. They’re happy to have the boxes stack well on a shelf or for travel. So even expansions that come in a smaller box should have at least two dimensions the same as the base game so you can hold them all together.

I know Fantasy Flight has sworn by having an entire line of games that uses the same size boxes and inserts. I don’t know if that was a really successful choice for them…. Maybe! It was definitely an inexpensive choice for printing and design costs.

But cheap and commoditized is not the Iello way. We make fantastic looking games. That should be our primary decision-maker in box size. Who cares if it’s big–does it look amazing?

Under that rubric, smaller boxes are generally better, regardless of market. Currently, my favorite box trick is Castellan from Steve Jackson Games. The retail box is big with a plastic shell, but the game contents are neatly packaged within a smaller interior box which you pull out and actually keep. Big for the store, small for the storage.

Other tricks include:

  • plastic windows to show off cool internal components (Fun Farm, Dicecapades)
  • varnish print layer (every Iello game has one of these)
  • tins instead of cardboard boxes (Forbidden Island/Desert)
  • lenticular sections (haven’t seen a game do this yet, but it was all the rage in comics 20 years ago)
  • holographic elements (haven’t seen this outside of an occasional sticker)
  • textures like faux snakeskin or fake fur (never seen this, probably not cost effective and nightmarish to stock)

Any other ideas? Leave me a comment.

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Project: Dark beta run

I backed Will Hindmarch’s Kickstarter campaign for his first-person sneaker RPG, Project: Dark. It’s an RPG in the way of computer games like Thief, Dishonored, or say, the sneaky parts of Metal Gear.

Though the full game won’t be done for a few months, Will pushed out a beta kit to backers after the end of the Kickstarter campaign. I was unusually excited for this game. In reading rules snippets, it seemed to capture the feel of a PC sneaker well. You have limited resources. You need to stay hidden. Your main job to get your objective and get out alive.

It’s easy to say that’s how you want your game played. But if the mechanics don’t back it up, then players will probably just treat it like D&D. Dark delivers. Continue reading

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