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I’m always churning on a handful of side projects but I went to Gencon with the goal of pitching a couple of my designs to publishers. I succeeded, got some great feedback, and outdid my own expectations. I’ll be recapping that experience over the next several days but before I get into that I want to put out my Gencon highlights.

Highlights

Wow

Really, wow – it was about as big as I expected, but there was such variety in what you could do and see and experience. I was overwhelmed from the moment I walked in the door, and disheartened when I realized there was no way to do all of it, especially with my busy schedule. There was just way too much to see.

Indianapolis is an amazing city – the current leadership has really gone out of their way to make this a place for those who visit, from the new airport to the way the area around the convention is clean and well planned. They rolled out fireworks (not for us but for the motocross people) and had a strong police presence wherever there was a crowd, so you felt safe. Really a great place to visit and they know how to handle large crowds.

I spent half my time at the con volunteering for Paizo. They make this little game called Pathfinder and released their Pathfinder Adventure Card Game at the convention. I demoed the game in the exhibition hall and in return they helped offset the cost for going. In retrospect, the free time to wander may have been worth not volunteering, but if you are short of funds this is a great way to get to a con. I also got some nifty swag out of the deal, met some great people, and had a lot of fun demoing what may have been one of the most popular demos at the convention (the game sold out the first day and we had a consistent line the entire time).

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

I only made it to a couple of non-work / non-volunteer events. Two of these were stellar. The Fantasy improv Roguish Skullduggery (by the Damsels of Dorkington) was hilarious but not for the sexually conservative or easily offended. The True Dungeons event (haunted house meets LARPing) was also a highlight. It helped that other players shared their Tokens with me but I would have loved the experience regardless.

Lowlights

Radisson Flood

Radisson Flood

I didn’t stay near the convention center. You really need to book a hotel 6-8 months (maybe earlier) to get anywhere near the convention center and my plans hadn’t firmed up at that point. I stayed at the Airport Radisson, thinking I could just do the airport shuttle as transport. Unfortunately theAairport Radisson isn’t anywhere near the airport. The city tore down and rebuilt the airport recently leaving the Radisson (and one another hotel that I understand is facing bankruptcy) alone in the middle of nowhere. The hotel must be suffering because of this and they had some hurdles. For instance a pipe broke and flooded their downstairs rooms, and then they were without water. They also had old advertisements that didn’t really apply to their current reality. Transportation by Taxi is really expensive, too (25-30$) each way to the convention center.

Advertised breakfast buffet versus actual breakfast buffet

Advertised breakfast buffet versus actual breakfast buffet

Luckily I found a great shuttle service called Personal Touch who had great rates and was staffed by very friendly, helpful folks. They saved me about 150$ in traveling costs over the con and made sure I got to all my events on time.

Convention food is worse at Gencon than any other con I’ve ever been to. The worse. Bar none. Pack snacks. Pack Healthy snacks.

Coffee is also terrible at the con but there are Starbucks waiting across just about every sky-bridge (each hotel adjoining the convention center seems to have them).

Always carry snacks and coffee with you

Always carry snacks and coffee with you

Wil Wheaton never called me once

For next time

Don’t expect to be able to buy all the new releases you are hearing about unless you line up outside the exhibition hall early to beat the rush to the booth you want on the first day. Most of the exhibitors explained that you could have pre-ordered stuff online for con pick-up, which is what I’ll be doing next year.

Bring cough drops. If your voice is wavering after long days of demo-ing  cough drops/throat lozenges work wonders.

Next time I vow to spend more time playing games and less time demoing them.

Pro Tip

If you wait till Sunday exhibitors who aren’t local can be bartered with for their goods. Truth is, they don’t really want to have to pay to ship all of their boxes back to whatever city they originated from.

I’ll leave you with this photo of a Dark Elf playing Lords of Waterdeep.  More about my games coming up.

Dark Elf plays Lords of Waterdeep

Dark Elf plays Lords of Waterdeep

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“…its 2013, and you just bought a print magazine.”

So begins the launch of Gygax magazine and the relaunch of TSR. I finally received my fedex’ed mag and sat down by the fireplace this weekend for an old-school page flipping magazine experience.Gygax Magazine

And the crew has really delivered on that. They’ve captured and faithfully reproduced the experience from the font, tone, look, and even feel of the pages. There is plenty of nostalgia captured, and the read is a wish-fantasy of time-travel fulfilled back to when, as the writers claim, things were simpler. Back to a time when imagination filled our hours instead of computers or touchpads or what’s online.

I loved the whole experience and will certainly continue to purchase issues. Highlights for me include:

  • Cory Doctorow’s DMing for your toddler was an article I can relate to being the parent of a four year old. It was great how the rules he presented were “kinetic” since I think one of the major detriments of our hobby is that it is quite sedentary, and also how the hobby can be used to teach basic math and other skills. I pulled an unstated point from the read of how imagination and story creation matters more than mechanics with children, and how simple rules can suffice for endless entertainment.
  • I loved Tim Kask’s pontifications on why it’s still all about the story.
  • It wouldn’t be old-school without Lenard Lakofka (aka Leomund) presenting a new table charting something or other and a collection of random thoughts. The brief synopsis of what he’s been doing (and struggling with) was a nice touch. His take on damage versus to hit was great crunch, although the modern game designer in me is now questioning why we need different rolls for damage and hit anyways.
  • The setting presented (Gnatdamp) was high quality and well written with plenty of strong material for visualizing the locale and great hooks built in for adventuring. I can easily see myself using this in an existing or new campaign.
  • Wolfgang Baur’s Kobold popping up again (as he says of kobolds they pop up where they aren’t necaessarily expected).
  • And of course the comics – What’s new with Phil and Dixie and was especially fun and The Order of the Stick pleasantly broke down that 4th wall. The comics were worth the price of admission.

There was some disappGygax Magazine Unboxingointment. I was expecting Jeff Dee art in all its glory instead of the small, poorly printed frame that looked like a V&V Madcap (is that the right name? My memory fails me) cutting room floor piece.

Also, Although Gnatdamp was great and the Kobold’s Cavern contained useful material for campaigning, most of the magazine was devoted to discourse on the hobby as a subject, not necessarily useful things a gamer could use in daily play. A third of the articles were about the state of the hobby, and although these were great reads and perhaps necessary to place the magazine’s context in today’s world, and I don’t want them to disappear entirely, I look forward to seeing more material one can use in campaigns.

I’m sensing overall an anti-technological tone. That perhaps video games and an online, conected world are a waste of time and responsible for destroying imaginative play (or at least DnD’s market share). I’ve said before that this tone may be off-putting to a younger generation necessary for the hobby’s survival.

The final disappointment is that the mag is only available quarterly. If only the market would support this as monthly, but for now the new TSR has gained at least one subscriber.

gary gygax

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This little item received some forum accolades but alas did not make it to Paizo’s RPGSuperstar later rounds.

Grifter’s Feint:

  • Aura Faint Conjuration/Illusion/Divination
  • CL 7th
  • Slot hands
  • 29,200 g
  • Weight 1 lb

Description:Grifters_Feint1

A worn set of cards in a plain black wooden case. The deck has all the benefits of a high-quality set of cards and provides +2 to Profession: Gambling or +2 to Profession: Fortune Teller or similar profession checks that rely upon a deck of cards. In addition the owner will always know the face of any of these cards (suit, color and number or equivalent) as long as he can see the backs of them.

By concentrating for 1 round the owner can have the deck appear as any known set of normal cards appropriate to the campaign (normally playing cards or fortune telling cards). The cards can be elaborately or sparsely illustrated, and can appear to be made of any common materials normally associated with cards (usually waxed vellum, thick paper or wood). Whatever the guise the cards will always appear well used.

Once per day as a standard action a single card from the deck can be thrown to the ground, exploding into a puff of harmless smoke and allowing the thrower to dimension door up to 400 feet away. The card regenerates inside the case within 24 hours.

Once per day as a standard action a handful of cards can be thrown into the air in a flashy display. The cards will sparkle and burst like small fireworks lasting 1d4+1 rounds. This display is equivalent to a mind-effecting gaze attack with a 30 foot radius. Those who witness the show are dazed for the duration (Will DC 16 negates). The cards burn up as part of this effect but regenerate inside their carrying case within 24 hours.

Construction:

Requirements: Craft Wondrous Item, Rainbow Pattern, Dimension Door, Clairaudience/Clairvoyance; 14,600 gp

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Any doubts to there being an old school tabletop renaissance should have been quashed this week, first with WOTC’s re-release of the DnD back-catalog, and then with the unboxing of the new Gygax Magazine. Disclaimer – I’m an old-school fanatic myself and I’m typing this while waiting in front of my mailbox patiently awaiting the first issue of Gygax magazine like a crushing schoolgirl. Yes, I know its Sunday.

gygax-magazine-banner

And from what was unveiled during the live unboxing yesterday Gygax magazine truly is old school. Editorial is owned by Tim Kask, the original editor of Dragon magazine, and much of the art (corralled by Jim Wampler) is commissioned from old-school talent like Jeff Dee and Rich Burlew (order of the stick). The magazine is a venture from Luke & Ernie Gygax (Gary Gygax’s sons) – although not all of the Gygax’s are behind this latest use of the Gygax name.

From the glimpses of the online unveiling the magazine has that old school feel. The layout and font are copied from the original Dragon magazine format, and some of the topical areas are carried over. Instead of Dragon’s Leomunds Tiny Hut there is a Leomunds Secure Shelter, for instance. There’s an ecology article (the banshee, possibly a tribute to Susie the Banshee who is their public relations person)  and there’s the familiar running comics at the end of the mag: Phil Foglio’s What’s New With Phil and Dixie, Jim Wampler’s Marvin the Mage, and Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick.

Gygax_magazine_stack

Despite the old school focus there is a lot of new school talent in the first issue. Kobold Quarterly is now defunct, but Wolfgang Baur appears to edit a regular area of the mag called Kobold Cavern. Cory Doctorow has an article focused on bringing in young gamers (DMing for your Toddler) and there’s an article titled DnD Past, Now and Next  by Michael Tresca.

Although the team talked about being focused on the hobby both as it was and the community that it is today, I worry about some of the commentary and attitude being off-putting for newer generations. There’s a complete lack of video or electronic gaming focus, and there did seem to be a prevailing attitude that the whole thing is a waste of time (except for virtual tabletops). On one hand it’s incredibly refreshing to get it straight (“Tim don’t do twitter – Tim has a dumb phone”), but time will see if the magazine will really appeal to the newer generations so vital to the hobby’s survival.

Despite some cross promotion shenanigans (Roll20 was announced as the official Gygax Magazine online thingee, promotional product prizes, all of the magazine advertisers brought up during discussion) the group does seem invested in the community. They are not coming out with a new system (saying plenty of that is going around already) but instead want to focus on content. There will be no reviews, or letters to the editors, which they say belong on the web now instead of in a physical magazine. Instead the focus is feature articles and game related content.

Some other key points made during the event:

  • Its a quarterly publication
  • Digital versions will be made available on Feb 7th
  • They are still working on submission guidelines (next 10-12 days)
  • Focused on material for current, existing game systems (DnD and all sorts of variants including pathfinder)
  • Looks like a new setting and new adventures in that setting
  • Will not be focusing on reviews unless it’s timely (reading between the commentary it seemed to be “unless we can get an exclusive”)
  • Missing from issue one but promised for later: more focus on board games, historical miniatures, Call of Cthulhu, and Chainmail naval rules
  • Only 5000 for the first original print run (hints of this run being collectible)
  • If all goes well, issue two will be in your local hobby store

The best part of the live event, though, was the online commentary and live responses:

  • Sorry, I cast darkness on Jim & Tim – Ryan Thompson (when the live video dropped)
  • Any plans to let JJ Abrams direct? – Eric Reiter
  • Sound Interesting So Any Info On The Xbox 720 or PS4? – Elijah Ramos
  • Could i get Ernie to throw up a peace sign, for the ladies. – Ollie Haldon
  • …There are a plethora of advertisers… – Luke Gygax
    +500xp for using the word Plethora – Lloyd Metcalf
    Of course he used the word ‘plethora’, he’s a Gygax. – Michael Mornard
  • Has Wil Wheaton got his Gygax mag copy yet? – Lloyd Metcalf
    I Don’t know what Wil Wheaton’s got in his hands. – Tim Kask

More when I get the actual issue. Grognard was able to attend the live event and has some nice photos. Oh, and you can watch the recorded event and order the magazine here. I think Gary himself would be pleased.

gygax_FUTURAMA_Gary_gygax_simpsons

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Been a little busy with NaGADeMon but was finally able to catch up on Zub’s chronicles –  in this issue Valeros and his companions drag one captured cultist around while tracking the rest, encountering ghouls as they go.

I’ve been an advocate for this comic so far – however, the story momentum seems to be slowing down, and they need to fill it with more than just random encounters. As much I enjoy a good wandering monster, ones that aren’t seemingly tied to the story are a bit of a drag.

That said, there are some nice character moments with Merisiel (although diehard Pathfinder fans probably already know all about her background) and the DM inside of you fills with joy when you see that the book comes with an entire scenario. The Pauper’s Grave cemetery that the characters encounter  has an in depth history write up, boss, detached map and a fully fleshed out scenario.

Quiet Character moments with Merisiel

Summary – story is beginning to drag, but the DM supplements almost make up for it.

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I’m becoming hooked on the light hearted, full of fight and refreshingly fun fantasy Pathfinder comic book. We’re only on issue two and I’m already excited to see what battles our fighter types charge heedlessly into next issue.

Seoni and Ezren

Seoni and Ezren trade jabs

Besides lots of goblin fighting we get a glimpse of the first major antagonist in this issue (but no spoilers here). We have a full party now, too:

  • Valeros the rash fighter
  • Kyra (cleric/paladin, also rash but with different motivations)
  • Seoni – sorceress
  • Merisiel – Elf rogue
  • Ezren – wizard
  • Harsk – Dwarf ranger (your typical surly Dwarf so far)

I’m a big fan of Jim Zub’s writing, although I think he’s still struggling to find some of the characters voices (except maybe Valeros) and a few of the comic lines seem bit off timing wise (as if Zub and Huarat aren’t quite in sync for those panels). But the bits that work work really well – and the dialogue is what carries the comic. My favorite lines are from the rhyming, singing goblins.

Huarat really brings the facial expressions (although I’m not a big fan of the pathfinder elf eyes – are they supposed to be deer eyes?) and great fights. Outside of the action the world backdrop is beautiful and full of life, and the art is still holding up to what I’d invasion Pathfinder style would be like in comic book form.

Merisiel

Merisiel with her black doe-like eyes…

Finally, the book comes with in-depth character sheets and lots of background material to tease a DM, part of what I think makes this a solid innovative product for Paizo. I can’t imagine you not wanting to pick this up, whether you are a Pathfinder or a Comic fan.

Pathfinder #2 is now available at your local store, or online from Paizo or Dynamite.

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So I’ve mentioned  before that I’m not sold on the DnDNext’s Sorcerer, and that I was never really onboard with them in 3rd/4thedition. To me

Seoni - Pathfinder's iconic sorceress

Seoni – Pathfinder’s iconic sorceress

they’re simply a subclass or variant of the wizard. We need the wizard, yes, but not a sorcerer (or warlock for that mater, but that’s another conversation).

Having both a wizard and sorcerer as core classes, I think, makes spellcasters and magic too rigidly structured. Having core classes with near identical function (in play) opens up the game to too many rules and tweaks that can exploit balance and cause confusion for players during creation and the DM during play. I’d much rather approach the Sorcerer as a variant or subclass of the Wizard. I still want ways to tweak and optimize and create sorcerous flavor, but still stay true to the Wizard’s roots and core class rules.

So what could this look like in DnDNext?

As a homebrew – first I’d split up the actual sorcery, that is the spellcasting, with sorcerous/draconic origin. To me they are completely different things.

For DnDNext, sorcery could become a specialty, much like how necromancy in the beta works now, and it you wanted a spellcaster with a sorcerous mechanic (read – use cha for your spell prowess), you would choose that.

Sorcery as a Specialty in DnDNext could look like this:

————————————————–

Magic is now part of your being; an untamed, wild power that surges and roils, constantly on the verge of breaking free. Your spells are not learned from books or granted by pacts or prayers. They come from within you…. (etc.)

Requirement – cast Wizardry spells

Level 1: Sorcerous Magic

The number of spells you can know decreases – At first level, you know two 1st-level spells. Each time you increase in level, you can learn one new spell. When you learn a new spell,  its level must be no higher than your maximum spell level. However, unlike a wizard, you know these spells innately, don’t require a spellbook, and don’t need to prepare them. Instead of using Int for your casting ability, you use Cha instead.

Casting a Spell: Instead of having spells per day, You must spend spell points to cast a sorcerer spell (other than a minor spell). A spell’s level determines the spell’s spell point cost. It costs 1 spell point to cast a 1st level spell, 2 spell points to cast a 2nd level spell, etc. If you don’t have enough spell points available, you cannot cast the spell. Spell points are determined by taking your normal wizards spells per day, halving them, and adding +1 (note: not sure how balanced this is – could use some other similar mechanism). You regain all of your expended willpower points at the end of a long rest. You cannot cast sorcerer spells while wearing armor.

Magical Attacks: When you make a magical attack using a sorcerer spell, you use your Charisma modifier for the attack roll, and add a bonus to that roll based on the Magic Attack column in the Wizard table. Saving Throw DCs: When a spell that you cast calls for a saving throw, the save DC equals 10 + your Charisma modifier. As you gain levels, the DC increases, as noted in the Wizard table.

Level 3

Sorcerous Power: Draconic Resistance

Depending on the source of your sorcerous powers, you gain a natural resistance against certain types of damage. Choose one of the following:

  • Acid
  • Lightning
  • Fire
  • Physical
  • etc

Requirement: You can use this power only as a reaction in response to taking damage. Effect: Before you take the damage, it is reduced by 10. The resistance lasts until the end of your next turn.

————————————————–

The second thing would be to make Sorcerous Origin (and the playtest sample – Draconic Heritage) more of a racial ability. These powers would manifest when you chose Elf: Dragon Heritage, Dwarf: Dragon Heritage or Halfling: Dragon heritage (instead of the other sub-races that are available). Here’s an example of what that MIGHT look like, based on segregating out the existing draconic heritage abilities.

————————————————–

Draconic heritage

Draconic heritage

Besides being a (Dwarf/elf/Halfling) somewhere in your ancestry, the blood of a dragon entered your lineage. Its effects do not manifest in every generation, and they do not always appear as full-fledged powers. But in you, the blood runs true.

Ability Adjustment – +1 to (str for dwarf, cha for elf and con for Halfling)

Dwarf Special ability: Dragon Strength – You channel the ancient strength of the dragon, causing you to deal heavy damage. Effect: The next time you hit a hostile creature with a melee attack during the next minute, that creature takes an extra 2d6 damage.

Elf Special ability: Draconic Physique: After you have spent 3 spell points, your hands become claw-like and your body grows more imposing. Until you complete a long rest, you gain a +2 bonus to the damage rolls of your melee attacks.

Halfling Special Ability: Draconic Toughness – just like the Hill Dwarf’s Dwarven Toughness ability

————————————————–

Conceptually this just makes more sense to me. Sorcery becomes a discipline, something that can be learned, be nurtured.  Sorcerous origin becomes nature, something you are born with.

There are still a few big issues to this approach I haven’t reconciled yet

  • Sorcery still veers too far away from the core class of Wizard, and I want to look at simplifying their basic abilities even further, or at least making the mechanics as similar to Wizard as possible yet still keeping the “feel” of a sorcerer
  • My tweaking pushes Specialties into becoming a little too overbalancing/powerful – with specialties like this one, why would someone choose a specialty like healer or Survivor?
  • There’s no Draconic Heritage Human, because Humans don’t have sub-races (at least not yet, something else I’d change and may write about in a future post).
  • The above examples need to be further balanced (meant as examples, only)

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