Wizards of the Coast Delved Too Greedily And Too Deep

One of the things in the background of my life last week (mostly because I didn’t have the time or emotional capacity for it to be anything else until last Friday) was the on-going destruction of the reputation of Wizards of the Coast in the tabletop gaming community. For those of you unaware, you can read the full context here. In short, though, Wizards of the Coast was planning to replace something called the Open Gaming License (or OGL) with an updated version full of incredibly shitty terms. In addition to disallowing anything like a Virtual TableTop (VTT) or most media related to Dungeons and Dragons (like podcasts or youtube videos), this verion also laid claim to anything produced by a 3rd party and 25% of any revenue produced over $750,000 (which would bankrupt most companies in that position). The version that existed for over two decades, that has allowed so many people to make a career out of third party content creation, was going to be replaced by what was a shameless cashgrab by people only interested in increasing their own company’s revenue rather than continuing to foster the tabletop gaming communities that exist in and around Dungeons and Dragons.

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My Pokémon X-perience Is Kinda Forgettable

I’ve been doing a replay of the Pokémon franchise over the past year or so (very casually, mostly while riding my exercise bike or for a few scattered minutes here or there) and I started Gen 5 a month ago with Pokémon X. Now, I’ve never actually finished Pokémon X before. I’m not sure I’ve even gotten to the point where I’d fight or capture the titular legendary Pokémon in either of my past play-throughs. I honestly can’t remember how far I got in any of my previous runs because they were all fairly focused play-throughs that happened with multiple years between them. I think I did my last attempt at beating the game in the months before Pokémon Sword and Shield came out, and the one before that was in the year or two after the game originally released. Long enough ago that I don’t remember exactly when it happened.

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Time Loops, Battle Strategy, and Lateral Thinking

One thing I’ve learned, watching my players work their way through a time-looped demi-planar prison of some being they haven’t quite grasped yet, is that even knowing that you can just try again should you die in battle doesn’t remove the sting of defeat. Whether because of bad luck, a few difficult choices, or a lack of the proper strategic application of strengths, it still sucks to lose a fight you probably could have won. There were a few lucky natural-20s, a few unlucky natural-20s, a lot of low rolls, a great deal of below-average damage rolls, and the revelation that enemy spellcasters can cast spells to bring their allies back from the brink of death just like the player characters can. Or, well, just like they could before the main healer left the party to do something only his player and I know about, so I’m not going to reveal where he went or why he went, just that he left and now there’s no one whose primary focus is keeping people alive.

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The Ground Itself Is My Favorite Worldbuilding Game

I’ve been playing Everest Pipkin’s The Ground Itself with one of my D&D groups lately, as we work on building out the world I created while writing about worldbuilding for Tabletop Roleplaying Games. It has been a lot of fun to create this location with my friends, all of us co-authoring the world’s elements as we build off each other’s ideas, take ideas in directions the others wouldn’t have considered, and generally have a more fun time than we expected we would. The open-ended prompts based on the deck, the somewhat chaotic nature of drawing things from a deck (our first time period burned through half the deck before we got to jump in time), and the always energizing exchange as we flowed between casual, light roleplaying in a handful of scenes to discussing what one of us meant when someone established symbotic relationships with plant creatures. All of this has been a delight to share with my friends as we work on fleshing out a world to experience with characters we already care so much about.

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The Latest Update to Splatoon 3 Looks Pretty Chill

A new season has begun in Splatoon 3. I haven’t been playing the game much lately, and the idea of new stages, game modes, and weaponry doesn’t really appeal to me in the “let’s try out some new cool stuff!” kind of way, but it might just get me back into the game anyway. After all, it’s always been fun when I haven’t been getting disconnected and put in time out as a result. The core gameplay loop is pretty fun and fairly low-stakes since the matches only last a few minutes, so the only thing that ever really gets on my nerves is the communication issues. Sure, there’s still some issues that the game’s creators need to address by improving communication overall, but my ISP also shares some of the blame at this point and there’s not much I can do about it unless I want to call so I can get sales pitches thrown at me for an hour while I get transferred between various departments multiple times before someone just as tired of the rigmarole as I am finally confirms that they don’t offer any service plans that include what I want. And I would rather do just about anything else with my time than that.

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New Games, New Gaming Group, and All Kinds of Fun.

I recently started a new Dungeons and Dragons campaign. We had our session 0 three weeks ago, session 1 a single week again, and unfortunately had to skip the session 2 we’d planned for just a couple days ago. This is my current Sunday group, which consists of three regular players, one occasional (perhaps only Honey Heist) player, and one enigma who may never show up or may begin attending regularly. Whatever their heart demands, I guess. Still, it’s a solid group of players and they all made really fun characters for our 2-4 session introductory D&D campaign. The idea is that we’ll do this short campaign as a way to do a bit of world development (I get to have their characters as NPCs once we’re done) and to get everyone a bit more comfortable with each other. After this is done, we’ll be moving on to testing out Blades in the Dark for a similar amount of time, and then move from there to other games (the specific order is TBD). Once we’ve given most of them a try, we’ll wrap back around and decide what we want to play longer-term.

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The Unhinged Quartet and the Crystalline Honey Scepter

I ran a game of Honey Heist for the first time last weekend. It hadn’t even played it before but my players were demanding it (I mean, we were all excited by the idea of playing it, so it wasn’t some one-sided thing) and the two times I’d seen it played (once on Critical Role and once as a live-show by The Adventure Zone with special guest Eriak Ishii) gave me enough confidence in its simplicity that I decided to run it. Plus, this was going to be the first thing my new Sunday group played together and I wanted something with very little preamble so we’d all be awkwardly uncomfortable together. Since this was one of those games meant to be picked up and played in a single play session, the only prep work I did was buy the game, read through it once, and then come up with a pun for the heist.

As the players made their characters, I rolled on the various scenario tables provided in this excellent one-page RPG (techincally two if you count the GM tables which aren’t necessary for play) and spun up a scenario as I went. “Madame Beesaud’s Wax Museum” featuring the “Crystalline Honey Scepter” was eventually built up into an elaborate heist featuring security gaurds armed with tranquilizer guns, a complex CCTV system, live bears as part of the entertainment, honey-coated decor, and a figure I described as “Lady Gaga-esque but with honey.” Everything else beyond those data points I made up as I went along using my in-depth knowledge of the heist-movie genre, my player’s excellent character creation skills, and just enough prompts to get most of my players asking the right questions to flesh out this scene.

If you’d told me that was all I was going to need to create one of the most memorable hour and half tabletop gaming experiences of my life, I’d have probably nodded politely while cussing you out in my head considering I’d spent the entire day prior to the game fretting about how I was going to make it happen since there is aboslutely no structure provided for how a heist should play out. The game has a simple pass or fail mechanic, two stats that fluctuate based on passes or failures, and a system clearly designed to end every heist in a spectacular and hilarious disaster. And tons of costume and bear suggestions for creating your characters, of course. It is not a great system for someone who struggles to put something together without any amount of structure to build off. I have, for most of my life, been such a person. I’ve always struggled to improvise without leaning heavily on something I know well and the only reason I was able to do that for D&D over my years as a DM was by making sure I knew the game well enough to improvise within its realm.

Turns out I’ve grown. What a surprise. All of that listening to actual-play podcasts featuring improvisation and shared storytelling games over the last couple years has actually taught me something useful. Plus all of my own writing and movement away from the more stilted, pre-planned story beats of my old Dungeons and Dragons games towardzs a more “reflecting the players actions in real time” style of storytelling has given me plenty of practice. It also helped, once I settled in to run the game and stopped fretting, that my most memorable tabletop gaming experience prior to this game was the D&D game I’d run about forty-eight hours prior where I eventually entirely abandoned everything I’d prepared and the rules of D&D itself in order to respect the fiction as we’d established it during a dead-world moment with two of my players. Something else I’d entirely improvised in the moment when one of the players took an action I didn’t expect but that had interesting narrative implications given the way we’d talked about their character’s relationship with their powerful, partially sentient magic item.

Turns out, I am actually pretty good at this, thanks to all of that practice and the excellent examples I’ve had of how to ask the right questions. It also definitely helps that both groups are full of creative, expressive people who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and try something new or daring. Sunday night’s game of Honey Heist went off in spectacular fashion, starting with the coincidence that all of the players rolled “unhinged” as the description of their bear, passing through a bear doing muscle-based seduction, reaching a high with the introduction of a rival team of thieving bears that I’d been hiding in plain sight the entire time, and then blowing past that high point with the introduction of a river following one of the players betraying the party right when doing so would result in the players failing the heist only for their bear to be tackled out a window into the newly introduce river by a polar bear which brough the game to a conclusion with a tumble over a waterfall and an ambiguous final shot showing an unknown bear grabbing the prize in a way that firmly established there would definitely be a sequel to this game.

Honestly, even that belabored, overly-detailed sentence doesn’t do it justify. I wish I’d recorded the entire game because, with the right editing, it would make for an amaing hour-long audio drama. What a great experience that was. My players were all clever and inventive, I got to pull of a twist by building off details they’d established, and we all laughed so much that the game took almost two hours instead of one. It was one of those moments that made me realize and appreciate the group I’d brought together. I’ve been confident that they’ll all get along, but I knew that they’d need some time to adjust to each other. With this single game of Honey Heist, I think they all see the strength and potential of this group in the same way I do. I can’t wait to keep playing games with these people!

Overwatch? More like Watch Over, AmIRight?

Recently, during the brief moments I’ve had time to spare, I’ve been hanging out in a new Discord server. By which I mean it’s an old Discord server that I’ve been a part of for several months, but it is new that I’m hanging out in it. The people there are pretty nice and they all think I’m cool (or at least they’re always happy to hear from me when I show up), but they’re all trying (gently, in a friendly and only mildly pressuring way) to get me to play Overwatch with them. They’ve been unsuccessful so far because they make just as many points about why I should stay away as they do about why I should redownload the game, but what managed to break the mighty temptation I felt watching them last night was the fact that Overwatch 2 requires you to add your phone number to your account if you want to play the game.

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Rewriting History Is More Difficult Than It Seems

One of the choatic elements to come out of a recent D&D session was one of the players gaining the ability to get the answer to a question his character focused on, along with the knowledge required to use it in a way to solve the problem the question related to (essentially knowledge and the wisdom to use it as intended) along with the ability to change one event from the past, specifically by causing that event to not happen. This power was earned fairly early in the evening’s chaos, so while everyone else was laughing and joking about powers gained and reacted to how many times we drew specific cards despite the unlikelyhood that they’d keep showing up after I reshuffled the deck, this player was busy thinking about how to use this specific combination of powers. As much fun as I was having with the chaos happening to the other players, I was more excited to see what this player would come up with since he’s usually the one to push the envelop and come up with things that surprise me.

For instance, the first thing he suggested as a potential use for his reality-altering power was to prevent the death of the god whose name had been granted to the world in honor of her sacrifice. This god, according to the history the players learned, chose to save the mortals around her form a raging elemental titan that would have otherwise destroyed them. The titan wound up destroying her in its rage, but her death spurred all the other gods to action, thereby starting the creation wars between the gods and the elemental titans, the results of which directly lead to the initation of the godswar an unknown (by them) time later, which resulted in much of the damage and scarring the world bears in the present day of the players’ characters. Not to mention, of course, that the elemental titans had been killed but also left in the world for reasons unknown, which was causing real problems for the people in the time of the players’ characters. Preventing the death of that one god could have changed everything!

Except, of course, that it really wouldn’t have. As my players and I discussed, prompted by that idea and a few other ideas floated by the other players in response to that one, wars typically happen as the culmination of many events. Systemic problems frequently can’t be solved by the alteration of a single event, even if you have been given the knowledge you need to understand what event needs to change to prevent the outcome you know. An abusive and dangerous empire isn’t made by a single event. You can’t dethrone a godking by making one of his supposed miracles fail. You can’t stop a war by preventing the death of the first victim in one specific moment. The empire might falter or lose a step, but it’s inertia will carry it to victory eventually and nothing short of another series of events with a similar amount of inertia will properly topple it. A godking with a failed miracle will merely find a scapegoat and then prove their power via a new miracle since anyone willing to believe in a godking will believe that a godking’s enemies were out to make them look foolish in that momemt. If someone chooses not to sacrifice themselves to save others, thereby sparking a war, on one specific day after a long series of watching people they care for be hurt, they’ll probably do it eventually and the only real change will be that more people were lost before the war began.

I tried to provide as many examples as I could of how our world’s history could change with one or two events being shifted. It can be difficult, though, because there’s no way of really knowing how things would play out with a minor tweak. People are fond of saying that Hitler getting into art school would have prevented the rise of nazism and the second world war, but I think it would have just looked different. I mean, the US is a pretty good example, what with Trump and US facism. All the elements were already there, the situation was right for the rise of authoritarianism and reactionary politics and the fascism that seems to always show up after those do. The orange menace just gave it a kickstart and launched it into the open. It might have taken more time to get where we are today without the travesty that was the 45th presidency, but we probably would have. The shithead turtle leading the conversatives in the senate was already using the playbook, so it was just a matter of time. The rise and fall of movements, power, and societies aren’t quick or easy things, nor do they reduce down to single tipping points as often as we’d like them to, so changing one single event in a massive chain like that wouldn’t have a huge, drastic effect on the world.

What the player wound up doing was changing events so that his character was in a position to start a chain of events that would change the world. In ways that are both significant and that, from the perspective of the other players, won’t have any visible change until they start digging into things. It is entirely posssible, given what the player and I have discussed, that I’ll be able to pull a “the world was always this way.” I think I can even incorporate it into the side-campaign that gave the player the knowledge necessary to attempt something like this, though even that might have been a retroactive thing he only realized once he’d used his single answer to gain a bunch of information that wound up being connected.

It’s a little difficult to parse from where I am, if I’m being honest, since it has been so many years since I made this world and started the first campaign in it. I’m not sure I’ve kept all of the details separate, but I’m sure I’ll figure that out as I go along. After all, no one but the player and I know what his character did. No one but I knows what the future originally held that will now no longer come to pass. The campaign might be radically different, and the future might change again because of what the player might still do, but I’ll figure all that out as we get to it. That’s most of the fun, anyway, having to scramble to make everything fit as my friends and I roll dice while joking about how everyone got a card from the Deck of Many Things that granted them one or more levels except one player who drew a card that gave him a servant who was given card draws that then put him at a higher power level than the player character he was supposed to be serving. Good times.