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Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design

A FIVE BOG TROLL HEAD RATING!

The Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design is an intimidating and healthy 244 pages of collected musings, thoughts, insights and essays from a collection of industry names that should prove familiar to most gamers or would be designers looking to sit down and read through this book. At first glance, and yes by the assumption made from the books title, it would appear this book is strictly for the designers out there, a how to guide if you will, on how to make a successful game and thereby put your name on the map when it comes to the gaming industry. But looking through the chapters and essays contained within one discovers very quickly there is so much more to this book then first impressions. Written largely by Wolgang Baur, you will be treated to his insight on everything from borrowing concepts from throughout all of media and history, why MtG worked as a game, how one actually defines design, to nurturing one’s own creativity. Wolfgang spends a great many chapters walking the reader through the many different aspects behind what makes a great designer, as well as why many will fall flat on their faces. He takes an unblinking look at the industry, and then reflects that here for the readers, which I have to admit, was refreshing. Far too many people are convinced they have the next great idea, and find themselves at a total loss when the whole o f the world doesn’t agree with them. He even voices his opinion on Magic Item Creation ala RPG Superstar, he has judged twice now, and is well established to detail what works, and what doesn’t. I can’t help but think every gamer/designer who’s ever considered publishing or submitting would do themselves a great service to spend some time reading at the very least the first section of this book, if not all of it.

Section 2 takes us into what I thought of as the reason gamers would want this book, not that the material and thoughts of the first section were not excellent, but they were aimed more towards designers looking to publish, as opposed to GM’s (who in their own right are designers, whether they realize it or not). Here is where this book really starts to attack the concept of how to improve one’s game from the ground up. Chapters dealing with topics like plot design, handling city adventures, the underdark and what one can really do with it as an ecological setting as well as a built in monster infested killing field. Hordes, humor, mystery and hardboiled adventures, this section tackles several different topics I can honestly say I wasn’t aware I had problems in until I found myself reading through these and realizing that I saw parts of my game in what they were addressing. Again, any GM worth his player’s time should spend some time with this section.

Section 3 takes us back to the business side of it again, with Writing, Pitching and Publishing. And again, we find that unblinking eye, which is what is needed in a product of this nature. After all, if you are going to buy a book that is largely a collection of advice and insight on how to succeed, would you want it to be sugercoated? No, you would want exactly what is delivered here, a fantastic collection of industry veterans not only telling you how you can improve your design and game, but how they themselves have improved their own games and designs. And just who are we talking about there when I say industry veterans, take a look:

Colin McComb– Extensive writing credits with TSR, Malhavoc Press, Paizo, and Open Design.

Rob Heinsoo – lead designer for D&D 4e as well as an extensive list of RPG, tabletop roleplaying, board, miniature and card games.

Michael A. Stackpole – Author, Game Designer both within the computer world and RPG industry

Ed Greenwood – The creator of the Forgotten Realms and successful author

Bill Collins – ENnie award winning designer (Tales of Zobeck)

[b]Nicolas Logue – WOTC Voyage of the Golden Dragon, Several credits with Paizo

Ben McFarland – credits on several Open Design projects, contributor to Kobold Quarterly, and The Breaking of Forstor Nagar

Willie Walsh – Longtime contributor to Dungeon Magazine, AD&D Road to Danger & Dungeons of Despair, Member of the Werecabbage Freelancers Creative Guild, 0one Games

Monte Cook – 1/3 of the design team for D&D 3e, Malhavoc Press, Arcana Unearthed, Ptolus, Iron Heroes, World of Darkness

Wolfgang Bauer – TSR, ICE, Open Design, just to name a few companies he has worked with. Won the eighth annual Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming in 2008.

So, 244 pages looking behind the curtain with some industry insiders. Very very few errors in editing, and by very few, I mean I think I found one. A must have book for both those looking to get into this industry, and those who merely want to play. I will admit, I did not know what to expect than I first saw this book, but by the end I was very happy that I turned the first page and kept reading, and I think you will be also.
I think my biggest fear in tackling this book was page hypnosis, and since it was a fear of mine, I would like to address it. Page hypnosis, as I call it, is that trance state you hit when reading textbook material type writing for hours on end, where you’re not really absorbing anything so much as you’re just staring at it because it’s so boring. Why would I be afraid of that? Because every guide on getting into the industry I’ve ever seen before this one essentially ended up being one of the most boring reads I ever tried to get through. The Kobold’s Complete Guide handles this with a very subtle method, that I think shows a great deal of intelligence on Wolfgang’s part. No matter how interesting someone is, when they are teaching the human brain will attempt to go on autopilot eventually, so this book breaks up Wolfgang’s writing style by interspersing essays from the other game designers throughout, giving you multiple writing styles to keep it fresh constantly. Now, am I saying that any of the material is boring? No, I am saying that the format of having multiple writing styles, and therefore multiple “voices” in this conversation proactively help to keep the book fresh throughout the entire read.

As I believe every GM and designer should have a copy of this in their library, I am going with a solid 5 star rating, but am adding the clarification, this is a collection of text. There is no pretty artwork breaking up the text, no game mechanics per say. This is a collection of insight into how to make the games we play that much better, and well worth the read, as long as when sitting down to read it, one understands that that is what they are sitting down to read.


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D&D NEXT has a new home on Wizards.com!

Wizards of the Coast has just launched a brand new hub of information for D&D Next, the “next” iteration of the game, at http://www.wizards.com/DnD/DnDNext.aspx. The new page features all the latest and greatest on D&D Next including articles from Wizards, discussions about the future of the game, and seminar transcripts from the recent D&D Experience event. It will also soon house features like Live Chats, a calendar of upcoming events and, once playtesting begins, materials will be available for download through this page. (Please note that this new site does not signify the start of playtesting – we will, of course, let you know once that begins!)

Also, as you may have noticed, the D&D site has been redesigned with a spiffy new look which went live this week at http://www.wizards.com/dnd.

Check out the new pages and, as always, let me know if you have any questions. In the meantime, check out the site and sign-up for the playtest if you haven’t already done so!

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WANT THIS LOOT?

“WANT THIS LOOT?” – Contest!

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D&D low level adventures and why I love them

Although many of my players love playing a powerful PC, there is something to be said for the low level RPG adventure. How I came to love the low level adventure probably has roots in my trappings as a child while learning the d&d game. Those basic dnd red books or the keep on the borderlands module, very basic stats with a basic beginning, trying to explain from where your characters hail and then have then die at the hands of the enemy in the first adventure.  Time to roll up some new PCs!

Most of the time though I was a fair DM and would let the players make their own choices which would determine if they lived or died.  In most cases they lived and carried on to become powerful wizards and clerics, warlords and thieves causing social and political change in the world around them.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the social and political intrigue, the complex plots and ever growing campaign, I live for that stuff!  At that point though, the point where the PCs become almost too powerful for their own good I always crave the simpler adventures, the times when the main quest was to find the goblin cave and bring back the leaders head to the village mayor.  There is something to be said about the classic low level adventure that I guess can only be nostalgia and a craving for simpler times.

When we were younger we would always use the TSR campaign settings like Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Dragonlance, and Ravenloft.  But, I preferred to write my own adventures and create my own unique locations for the PCs to explore.  The strange thing about our gaming was that most of the time we couldn’t form a gaming group that would last more than one session.  Thus we would play one on one games, just a player and myself as a DM.  I actually enjoyed those games quite a bit since I was able to focus on character growth with a single PC and let them do whatever they wanted without affecting the rest of the party in any ill mannered way.  We had some killer quests and there are many characters and adventures I will never ever forget.  Those were the days!  Every once in awhile though (like on someone’s birthday) we would get together for a massive AD&D 2nd edition game with about 6-8 players (well, it was massive for us when we were kids, OK!?)  The players would all come with brand new 1st level characters and we would play a “one-off” although back then we had no idea what “one-off” even meant.  Most often we would play “The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar” in the Forgotten Realms.  Man, I must have asked “are you sure you want to do that?” to one of our players a dozen times before he finally died covered in green slime while trying to run through one of the first rooms where the entire ceiling is covered in the stuff.  For some reason I remember that happening on more than one occasion so perhaps he never got the drift that even a shield wasn’t good protection against the stuff!  The players got to know that place well, although we would never make it more than a few hours into the place before the game had to be wrapped up and shut down.  I wonder if any of my old school players would be up for joining me for an old school dungeon romp to complete the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar from beginning to end?  It might take a weekend, but I’ve worked hard enough lately and thus deserve a break!  WHO’S WITH ME!?

What was your first adventure?  Who did you play it with?  What happened?  Did you character live to fight another day or perish at the beak of an owl bear who was hiding in a side passage?  Tell me your tales!

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D&D the Good Old Days: Share your Stories

Take a short pause in your day to reflect on your D&D legacy, the RPG games that you used to play with friends when there were no limits on time and anything was possible.  Take a moment and share those memories with us today in the comments section below, and if you have the time read this article where I lament over the death of my youth and subsequent loss of free time.

When I was a teenager in school, without a job, and spending summers with my friends we used to game like there was no tomorrow.  Our game of choice was AD&D 2nd edition and we played in all the campaign settings.  Our favorites were Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, and Dragonlance but we loved it all.  We had sessions that sometimes lasted from when we awoke on a Saturday morning late into that night and then continued the following day until the weekend was gone.  Those sessions are the stuff of legends, I remember them so fondly and recall how we used to game without a care in the world.  No appointments, jobs, husbands or wives, or children- just good old Dungeons and Dragons!

In the good old days we didn’t dig through the Players Handbook looking for rules violations or making sure we knew exactly how this or that spell worked.  We just enjoyed the fantasy and let it flow naturally, most of the time I didn’t write any adventure aside form some notes scrawled on a sheet of notebook paper behind the DM screen.  We would take time out to draw maps, talk about NPCs and the future of the characters involved.  Speaking of involved, my god- everyone was SO involved in each game.  It wasn’t just a game, it was our world!  The tales we told and the incredible journeys the Players made will be remembered forever.  Once I put it this way to my best friend- “The characters and ideas we have crafted take physical manifestation in the form of cells in our mind so in a way- they are real.”  Somewhere Taku Okamiya really exists, as does Derris Strongsword, Darsell Rathar, Iendelle Greenbottle, Laura Drandella, Gin, Phidel Cruze, and Alin Durqua.

The tales we spun were our own and we tended to stay away from the pre-made modules as they just felt forced.  We preferred to keep it real and enjoy our own game and use the rules and campaign settings as a guide to help us along when we had need of their services.

I miss those days and now that I am older we only get together with our gaming group about once per month and 12 games a year just doesn’t feel right.  Although there’s no way I can squeeze in one more thing due to my 5 jobs and playing in a band I sorely miss those days and hope they will come again soon.  Perhaps you will support me so fully with NERD TREK that you and I will have a chance to game sometime for days at a time!

I would like to share some of the most memorable characters and a very brief description of each.  I was always the DM yet even I enjoyed all of these unique and memorable characters.

Taku Okamiya (1998-2006) – Forgotten Realms – Hailing from the far east in Kara-Tur, Taku Okamiya ended his career with the following title: Lord Taku Okamiya, Ruler of Nesme, Guardian of the Confederation of Luruar, High Priest of Helm.

Derris Strongsword (mid-90’s) – Forgotten Realms & Planescape – Derris Strongsword was a gruff warrior who although distrusted magic eventually came to embrace it and carried all manner of magical devices which eventually led him into the planes and great quests through lava lakes and demon hordes.

Darsell Rathar (mid 90’s) – Dark Sun – Darsell Rathar was a brutal Mul (Human/Dwarf) with bulging muscles and a hot temper.  Wielding two impalers and with a taste for exotic mind altering herbs found in the High Forest, Darsell slayed more NPCs and enemies than every character combined in any campaign DMed to date.  He did whatever he wanted and killed whoever he wanted and his skills at wilderness survival and evading pursuing enemies and then killing them were the only reason he lived for so long.

Iendelle Greenbottle (2009-current) – Forgoten Realms – A carefree halfling rogue from Luiren, Iendelle recently discovered that she is actually a Doppleganger.  When she was a child she so wished to exit the forest and join the carefree halfling she saw daily picking flowers and dancing in the fields.  One day despite her mother’s pleas she spoke to the girl who was at first afraid.  Over many years the two girls became friends and always met in the field near the forest.  One day while walking the breathtaking cliffs near Beluir, Iendelle the halfling slipped and fell- the Doppleganger in her natural form caught her but could not hold on.  She slipped from her grasp and plummeted to the rock below, but not before the Doppleganger absorbed all of her thoughts.  Iendelle (who now believed she was one and the same) returned to her halfling home and unknowingly lived out the rest of her childhood there.  It wasn’t until recently that the halfling found out her true past while on a mission to save the realms from Vaprak the Destroyer.

Laura Drandella (early 90’s) – Forgotten Realms – A sexy female half-elf bard who was one of the first players to discover and explore Myth-Drannor- and live to tell about it!  She was a fiery broad and although many men were turned on by her, many more lost their coin purse and woke up without even a loin cloth to their name.

Gin (2008-2009) – Forgotten Realms – An elf raised by a human dictator and trained as a thief and assassin.  When the truth emerged that the dictator was in league with demons and the murderer of Gin’s parents, Gin’s life was turned upside down.  Now Gin lives with a life long enemy and many dangerous adversaries that pursue him to the edges of the world.

Phidel Cruze – (late 80’s/early 90’s) – Goldenhorn (custom world) – A dragon rider who was the only PC ever to own a ring of wishing, this game was wildly unbalanced, full of powerful magical items, and fun as hell!

Alin Durqua – (late 80’s/early 90’s) – Forgotten Realms – Alin Durqua discovered a magical stone in an ancient cave which was later revealed to have belonged to a now dead god.  This stone offered great power with a price.  You were able to open portals anywhere in the realms but one must drain the life from a soul in order to use this power.  Over the course of Alin Durqua’s life he saw much of the realms, soul trapped many poor souls, changed history and thus the future of the realms, was decapitated by an overzealous necklace of strangulation, and finally resurrected as a beastman who went insane and formed a cult worshiping the new evil god Cyric at which point the player turned over his character sheet to the DM (me).  He was one of the most unique characters and when originally rolled up I watched the player roll his stats STRAIGHT DOWN the line: 18, 18, 18, 17, 17, 17 and this was with regular dice- I checked them after he rolled.  Insane.

There you have it, I have shared some of our favorite characters and stories.  Although I gave you the incredibly brief version, I would like to hear yours now!  Please share your RPG stories below, whether you are a player or DM let us enjoy our memories of the “good old days” together!