Category Archives: Steve’s crazy brain thoughts

Triumphant(Hopefully) Return

So… it been a few months since we recorded an episode, and a lot has happened since then. We had a baby back in June, which is fantastic, but has drastically affected our time for Tabletop RPGs.

Shortly after the birth I was made the Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinator for the new D&D Adventurers League, which was exciting, and my health has been poor for a while but a few months ago it got drastically worse.

I’ve since begin to get better, and I have stepped down from the D&D AL RC role, and life is adjusting to the new addition of a level 1 human. So thoughts return to our little show here.

Obviously the the changes in our gaming lifestyle are going to affect the podcast, mostly in the form of less Actual Play episodes, and probably less appearances from Melissa, But we will definitely continue to produce episodes with some increased levels of Steve ramblings.

So stay tuned for some new episodes soon, and Never Stop Gaming.




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The D&D silence is deafening

As I type this, the D&D Next playtest has ended, and D&D 4th edition has essentially ended with the cease of publication of Dungeon and Dragon magazine. The only new products that are coming out of WOtC are novels, PDFs of old edition modules, and D&D encounters modules that by every opinion that I have read and experienced are terrible.

The barebones info that is being drip fed is, in my opinion, completely inadequate for a product of this scale. this should be the biggest release of any RPG product in the last ten years, but WOtC is treating it like they are embarrassed about the whole thing, and would rather people not pay much attention to it. they have spent ten times as much effort promoting their attempt the brush over their big rewind of the Forgotten Realms story with their The Sundering event.

The most unforgivable aspect of this whole thing is that we don’t even have a release date to look forward to. The longer we go without a firm date to look forward too, the more people will forget about the whole thing. And when you have such an active competitor in the same field, as they do with Paizo and Pathfinder, every day we go without something to look froward to is a day you loose customers to a company that is actually releasing products and support players in a way that WOTC never even dreamed of.

Never Stop Gaming




I spent my recent long weekend at PsyCon Nøught, a Sydney Pathfinder convention. normally i don’t attend the Pathfinder conventions because they clash with the other RPG conventions in the area. but this one did not, and we have been playing a fair bit of pathfinder since i started running one of the monthly game days, so i volunteered to run some games, and I have discovered something about myself in the process.

I am very very bad at running tactical miniature encounters.

I have always suspected this, but never has it been so spectacularly on display. On other tables characters were dying left and right, and my players were barely getting scratched. I sometimes encountered this when playing 4th edition D&D, but it was never bad to this degree. Some of my players didn’t even get hit in encounters that probably should have almost killed them.

i have always been a story focused GM, i believe the story is more important that the combat. yes, combat is fun. but it was never why i played D&D or any other RPG. i think both D&D 4th edition and Pathfinder are very combat oriented games, and that has led to an increased importance of combat. if you look at a 4th ed character sheet, there is almost nothing that is not combat related, and so combat becomes the focus.

I really enjoy running D&D, but if i can’t give my players a complete experience, then should i be doing it?

I think the answer is yes, I will keep running it, and i will work hard and practice running encounters so that I can be a better GM and provide a better gaming experience to my players.

Never Stop Gaming



A Colourful Background

Playing an RPG with an established setting is quite common, but how much background is too much?

I recently started running Legend of 5 Rings 4th edition, and I found myself completely overwhelmed by the raw amount of history that is available in the setting. This is not a setting I had ever been in contact with before, having never played the RPG before and never touched the CCG. There was so much history that it was just too much. I had to stop reading and just disregard huge chunks of the martial.

It was going to be hard enough just getting used to running (or playing) in this world, where the social rules are so different from the normal western fantasy world, without trying to keep in mind that the current Emperor is involved with a deadly blood feud, with the man that killed his grandfather because of a skirmish 500 years ago against a clan the had betrayed their brothers and sided with with an enemy clan who are now allies against the rising darkness that seduced the last emperor and started an rebellion that has now retreated across the plains to enlist the aid of the blah blah blah blah.

I like background, and really prefer to play in established settings, but I think it’s the feel of the setting that is important, not the individual documented events.
It reminded me of the first time I tried to play a D&D campaign in The Forgotten Realms. Everybody was talking about Elminster and Drizzt and Waterdeep and The Time of Troubles like I was supposed to know who and what they were. At the time, playing Baldurs Gate was the limit of my FR exposure so I knew a little of what they were talking about, but soon every place we went had centuries of history that we were supposed to know.

And that’s just being a player. How is a new GM supposed to be able to effectively run this game if there is the prerequisite of reading 40 novels? In L5R is was not so bad for me, since my player did not have any experience with the setting either. But if I had been running for anybody else with some familiarity with the world, there would have been constant corrections of “No! He can’t do that because that family is sworn to protect the…… etc.”. How is a GM supposed to create a a story when the world is already so full of story that you can’t make your own without stepping on someones toes? How are you supposed to run a compelling game for somebody that knows ten times more about the setting that you do?

Flavour in background is good. But to much established story stifles a GM’s creativity. So if you are one of those players that knows more about a setting that your GM does, please heed this advice:

Don’t be a dick. They are running a game for you, so cut them some slack. Don’t nitpick and don’t metagame every situation you find yourself in.

Never Stop Gaming.


Setting and System, What is One Without the Other?

I’m a guy who likes to play a setting in the system it’s made in, even if i don’t particularly like the system. But how tied to a system is a setting? Obviously it is possible for you play in any particular universe without using whatever system the writers/publishers/licence holders choose, but is there a real advantage to using a setting specific system? and what, is any, is the advantage of using a generic system?

The existence of generic systems like GURPS and Savage Worlds make is possible to play in any setting that exists, or that you can imagine. and there are easily modifiable system like Hero, that, while they are not made to be as generic as others, are extremely flexible.

I’ve been neck deep in the Legend of the Five Rings (4th edition) books for the last few weeks, learning the system and the setting in preparation for running some games. I really like the system, its simple where it can be, gets more complex where it has to be, but not in a bad way. and i think it’s perfectly made for the setting it supports.

That’s the crux of the arguument right there. it’s made for the setting. this system was created to fit this particular setting and had subtle elements and nuances that suit it. they started with the setting and built a system to support it, and facilitate your game actually feeling like you are living and playing in your chosen setting.

That’s if you’re lucky.

The other side of the coin is learning a new system every time you want to play in a different setting. a system that, while made for a setting, may not actually be any good. it might not be a good fit for that particular system, it might be clunky and slow, it might be overly complex, it might just have one thing that it get’s wrong that effects the experiance as a whole. but sometimes, it just not right.

So, the question is, do you perservere with a system that you don’t like/doesn’t work, or do you begin the process of converting a setting into a different system.

If your chosen setting doesn’t have an RPG to convert from then this is even more work, but work you would have had to do anyway. so it’s s moot point.

But, if you have a setting, for example Eclipse Phase, a very well fleshed out setting, with some very unique aspects, is it worth the work to try and replicate the aspects of that setting into a generic system when you already have a custom built system for it, albeit a slightly clunky one.

The generic systems themselves are exactly that. system without setting. and you need setting. you don’t have a game without a setting. even if ti’s just “present day” or “Sydney in the 80’s” or something equally simple. and chances are you will have to bend some rules to make it work in your generic system, either in the setting or in the system. even with all the extra books for GURPS, you still have to bend the system rules to re-create a Mutant City Blues game.

I do like generic systems for somethings, but generally I will choose a setting specific RPG’s over generic if it’s available. especially if there is a current or at least fairly current system.

Never stop gaming.


Taken From us to Soon

The Marvel Heroic RPG is no more.
I’m just going to copy and paste my comment from the MWP blog:

Disappointed about Marvel, but it wasn’t the best lineup of books. I think focusing in the crossover events was a mistake. team based books, like Avengers, X-Men, etc, supported by Adventure/Event books perhaps would have been better. when i saw that there was three supporting team books for just the Civil War line i was immediately worried how many more there would be for every other Event that came out. And some like New Avengers/Runaways don’t have the long history or large readership to support the sale of a book focusing on them. The info in 50 State Initiative should have been in the main Civil War book, and the Premium book, with the core rules included was misguided and wasteful. The fact most of the books never even got to the store shelves would not have helped things either. Sad to see this go, it was a fun system and had the potential to exploit years of great comics history.

Never Stop Playing.


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In a Class of Multi

In the most recent issue of Dragon magazine, #421, a new method of multi-classing for D&D 4th edition is introduced. I always loved multi-classing, and I was really disappointed with the way it was handled in 4th ed. So i was excited to see who this new system worked.

The basic premise of multi-classing in this edition seems to be that you pick a class, and you stick with it. You can take a little dip into another class at one point, in the form of a Multi-Class Feat that gives you one At-Will Power and adds the new classes keywords to yours, and that’s about it. It’s a bit like taking a 2 day crash course in wizardry. You get a little bit of knowledge and experience, but nothing close to actually having a level in that class.

Unfortunately, this new system is not much better. You can now “take a level” of another class, and you get a power from it, but that’s it. but you don’t get anything else. not class features, powers, or proficiencies from either your new class or your old one. Just that one power. there are some class exceptions, but that is the meat of it.

Again, I am incredibly disappointed. this is no better that the old system. In fact i would say it’s worse. you wast a whole Level to get a single power, rather than a Feat.

I’m not saying that it can’t work in building an effective character, i know it can. but that is not what’s important. the narrative of the character is what is important. people change careers all the time, why not adventurers? what if a fighter has a religious enlightening and wants to become a cleric? Should he not get a cleric’s powers? What exactly the problem with the old style multi-classing?

One of the first announcement Wizards Of The Coast made about D&D Next was from Mike Mearls, and it said “i think we got multi-classing right in this one, we don’t want to change it”. luckily this has since been changed and they are looking to take it back to being more like 3rd edition style , which i like. But why that statement in the first place? How is making multi-classing almost completely ineffectual “getting it right”? What is going on with Mearls & Co that they are so anti mulit-class?

I really think Pathfinder got this right. it’s one of the main reasons I started playing it. that sounds silly, but it’s true. Star Wars SAGA was pretty good with it too. I’m currently playing a Scoundrel that just took his first level of Jedi, and more than anything, it really feels like the choices I have made in character have had a major effect on the character sheet in front of me.

Sorry WOTC, but I like multi-classing. I really like do. And if you won’t let me do it, then I will go play a system that does.

Never Stop Gaming.




When Apps Go Bad

It occurred to me after writing the previous post that I forgot one important App.

Some time ago, I used to play a lot of Pathfinder, and during that time there was an app called simply “Spells”. This was fantastic! one of my characters was a wizard and the app came filled with the rules for every spell for every class in the game. This was invaluable at the table as it saved a lot of time looking through books for a particular spell, and saved the paper and ink of printing out all the spells that the wizard knew.

As the app was developed more it started to include not just spells, but classes, weapons, and other rules too. this was great for reference, but due to some poor organization of categories, it began to slow things down. Unfortunately the App was not updated when the new “Ultimate” books began to come out, so it quickly became obsolete as many characters took spells, equipment, classes, etc. from the new books.

So sadly this excellent app died a tragic death. I still have it installed on both iPhone and iPad, but it rarely gets used anymore. This was a fantastic application that possibly reached too far in it’s scope. It was called “Spells”, not “The Rules”, and nobody expected anything more from it than that simple purpose. I suspect that when the new books started to come out, the developers were simply overwhelmed with the amount of new stuff they would have to put into their app. there were so many things they would need to update now that it covered not just spells but Classes, Weapons, Equipment, Feats, Traits, Combat rules, General rules, that it was simply to much work for virtually no return.

It’s sad when something like this happens. a great app was destroyed in the name of pointless progress, updates for the sake of updates. they could have built a separate app, all the same application framework, just with different info in it and a different name. I would have bought it. Instead they added so many “improvements” while ignoring their initial core focus, the app couldn’t support it’s own bloat and died. You can still buy it, and it can be useful, but not as useful as it could have been. I’m sure they were trying to do us a favor. giving us more bang for our buck, and that’s awesome of them to actually try and do that, but it didn’t work. And in this case, it’s not the thought that counts.

Never stop gaming!


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The Digital Revolution

I’m writing this on my iPad while on the bus home from work. I initially just wanted to test the WordPress app, but I began thinking about how much this little device and others like it are having an impact on tabletop gaming.

An extremely analogue experience, roleplaying would seem to be the natural enemy of digital entertainment. But these devices can have a positive impact on our gaming, if, and that’s a big if, its done right.

I’m not taking about computer games. There are some great RPG computer games out there, but if we wanted to spend our time playing WOW, we would. And some of us do. But by choosing to play tabletop RPGs we have chosen the more tangible, and arguably more social experience. And I’m not talking about Program’s on the PC. That’s a whole different topic I have many thoughts about. This is just about mobile devices, mostly of the Apple “i” verity.

Let’s start with the bad rather than the good. There are quite a few apps on the Apple App Store that are made for tabletop RPGs. Campaign journals, encounter builders, character sheets, initiative and combat trackers, dice rollers, I’ve tried a lot of them, and besides one or two exceptions, I didn’t like them. They are clunky, slow, difficult to use on the fly, and ultimately you end up putting much more time and effort into an end result that is worse than their analogue equivalent.
I have yet to see a digital character sheet that is as fast as using a pencil and paper. And the same goes for initiative trackers. They are a very good idea, but I have yet to actually see or use one that works as well as my GameMastery combat tracker pad and a wet erase marker.

I didn’t let these go easily either. I kept trying and trying to make these apps work for me. Eventually I gave up. the only app I really found both useful and with the polish of an app worth paying for was The Dicenomicon. It’s great for when you want to roll some dice but actual dice are not permissive, such as rolling up a character in a library or at work. Defiantly the best of all the dice rollers out there, and I believe it’s physics based, so no issues with “not truly random” algorithms.

Now… To the good! There is one major way that mobile devices, and in particular tablet PCs, can make an incredible impact to our gaming lives. And that…. is with books.

Books are large, heavy, and expensive. Until…. They become digital. There is a massive growing market for digital books, and RPGs have not escaped this. In the space of one mid size book, you can have literally hundreds of books at your (digital) fingertips. And with sites like DriveThruRPG it is almost too easy to fill a 32gb ipad with gaming books. Trust me I know.

Some gaming companies have been more progressive than others in the area. Eclipse Phase by Posthuman Studios is released under the Creative Commons licence, and offers free downloads of all it’s books, though they are somewhat “hidden”. And Paizo Publishing offer all their books digitally at extremely reasonable prices. These publishers are by far the leaders of the pack, but many more companies are following suit and releasing their products in digital form. Wizards of the Coast, after a dramatic withdrawal from digital books several years ago for fear of piracy, are now stepping into that world again. Releasing not just current edition books, but products from over the entire history of D&D. And Evil Hat Productions will send you the PDFs of the Dresden Files game if you can prove you own the physical books.

But like the apps, some do it right and some do it wrong. Fantasy Flight has been ravenous in releasing their books digitally, but in true Games Workshop fashion, their search for profits is also ravenous. Depending on which discounts are on at the time, It can be cheaper to by the new core book “Only War” off amazon and have it shipped to you than to buy the PDF from DriveThruRPG. At best they are roughly the same price. They, along with Mongoose Publishing, Catalyst Game Labs, Alderac Entertainment, to name a few, all expect you to pay the same or near the same for a digital PDF as you do you for physical book. A digital product does cost money to make, but nowhere near what it costs to make a book, and to charge us physical book prices for digital books is at best encouraging piracy, and at worst borderline criminal.

The main advantages of the digital book over the physical portability, cost, availability, and digital features such as bookmarks and searchable text. Many gaming PDFs are sold without bookmarks or without being searchable, these two features are what makes using a PDF at the table fast enough to be useful. There is no excuse for not adding these simple features.

Availability is a big plus for this format, though it occupies murky legal and ethical issues. Star Wars SAGA edition is a good example of this. Not a very old system, but almost completely unavailable in physical form, and digital distribution will never be an option due to licensing issues. The only way you can play this fantastic system is by downloading a torrent or similar, which is at best legally questionable.

Illegal downloads aside, there are many older systems that are out of print, but legitimately available digitally. and that alone is reason enough to support this new format of semi-digital gaming.

But the question of digital books go beyond rational issues like space and cost. There is just something about a book. Something special. Something about feeling the weight in you hands, the smell of the printers ink, the gloss of the page, the complete physical presence of a big hardcover book. Having this information digitally is fantastic, but something about seeing a full bookshelf, with row upon row of curious tomes, gives me a warm satisfied glowing feeling in my stomach. It was this feeling that got me into roleplaying in the first place. And I think it’s this feeling, that says no matter how many, or how completely these mobile digital devices integrate themselves into every aspect of our lives, they will never completely replace our pencils, paper, dice…. and books.

Never stop gaming.


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