2023 D&D Done

As 2023 begins there’s a bit of a storm-in-a-teacup regarding the Open Gaming License (OGL), leaked documents, and OneDnD. There are various conspiracy theories, “legal-isms”, and opinions. It’s going to hit a lot of those publishers who relied on 5e D&D as their income, it’s going to move the game completely online, etc. What this has done is illustrate a certain amount of dependencies many in the games publishing community have on an increasingly toxic D&D.

For me? I’m done with D&D.

Games are luxury items. As a consumer, I don’t need to play or run D&D, or have any compulsion to sling dice, despite it often being portrayed that way. I do have the luxury of not relying upon a single game system as my sole income. The truth of it is: we’re spoilt in the UK as well, in regards to RPGs and gaming in general. We bitch and moan about Kickstarters with custom dice or content failed to deliver on time thanks to supply chain issues that we essentially voted for.We have plenty of games publishers, plenty of games clubs. We can’t get the players for other games because “D&D is the <THE ONE TRUE RPG> that I can play” (it’s not!).

As a second-income freelancer (see my website at https://billheron.uk, I’d encourage any would-be RPG creators to look the same way – be diverse in your games systems: write system-agnostic until you have a system. DM’s Guild may look like a great way to make an income but if Wizards (although it actually it’s Hasbro driving this monetization) decide to change the OGL, there’s nothing stopping them changing the terms of DM’s Guild. That said, when D&D 3.5 came out, a lot of the OGL content was not… great. I can take the high ground regarding the OGL since I don’t make a living from materials using it currently.

But I’m still done with D&D.

Over the last 30+ years I’ve lots of (A)D&D games. I go all the way back to first edition (Advanced) D&D. I can remember THAC0. I also remember when I didn’t need to buy a sourcebooks just to fix the system.

There’s a lot of reasons why I’ve come to the decision to move away from D&D. Some are system-specific, others aren’t.

  • The whole ruleset is still based on the six stats, bonuses (inc. those for race which is still very 1970’s, although that recently changed) – alhough these are normally bought with a point-buy system, that’s often gamed by a player.
  • Hit Points and Level also antiquated. “You roll, you hit for X damage” is boring.
  • Players take a level of warlock to get eldritch blast, extra damage, etc.
  • Challenge Rating is often cited as a reason an encounter is “unfair”. Running away is no longer an option.
  • High level play is unrealistic. Unless a 20th-level fighter is immune to suffocation, is wearing magic armour and is completely immune to both heat and flame, there’s no way they could stand up to a Red Dragon Wyrm’s breath weapon.
  • Very little actual roleplaying. Defeating opponents is the primary way to advance with XP.
  • I’m also tired of lugging Player’s Handbooks, being the only one that has actually invested in a a physical product at the table.
  • The most animated some D&D players get is when they talk about how they min/maxed their damage abilities. Not the game, the NPCs, or the setting.

That’s just a few… then there’s the game materials. Recent iterations of 5e boxed sets are little more than a couple of pamphlets, a map, custom dice and sample character sheets. They charge ~£50 for it as a starter set or Spelljammer (which didn’t even have ship combat rules). When you compare it to the Cubicle 7 Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay starter set (same price, but much heavier!) you get a lot more in the WFRP starter set.

I don’t like Critical Role, either – or any of these “live plays”. Espcially when it is cited as a “How to play”. Its contrived and a sponsored dramatization. It also creates a lot of unreal expectation by players. CR are paid actors and the stream is monetized so I’ve little doubt they spend time rehearsing and can of course give their games materials a professional look on-screen. I’m guessing they’ll probably reach some deal with Wizards regarding sponsorship for OneD&D. Maybe they’ll have to pay a license fee, like others. If folk want to watch it like other live plays than fair enough. Not me.

The market saturation of D&D (thanks to its depiction in the media, e.g Stranger Things) also means that other RPGs are effectively sidelined (even Call of Cthulhu) by larger retailers like Waterstones or HMV. If only they did the “If you liked this RPG, why not try…” but then the larger retailers usually rely on a single distributor.

It’s pretty hard for smaller RPG publishers to even get print books into distribution – although some retailers do have someone who tends to know something about the RPGs or boardgames stock they get in (again, spoiled in the UK!). Most of these retailers are tied to a single distributor who often can’t get these small press games in stock (or so I’ve heard!). Again, supply chain issues…

Then there’s the community. There’s been so much evidence of toxic individuals in the D&D (and by extension, Pathfinder and notably OSR) community at large that you only have to wonder at what else is going on. The backlash against diversity and disability, plus allegations over certain aspects of D&D (racial essentialism, slavery, discrimination, toxic behavior) are making it increasingly unpalatable as a system to me.

Individuals on social media sites/podcasts become experts on RPGs or have an opinion that is increasingly based on hearsay and bias. All they usually have is an opinionated loud voice and enough followers it then gets shared and becones hearsay and rumour (see OGL debacle!)… They often sound like they’ve never run a game (or played a game other than D&D!).

I’m also bored of it as a system. It’s still stuck in an old system that works for 70-80’s players but compared to a system like Call of Cthulhu, it has not stood the test of time well. You roll to hit and do X damage – the same with nearly all special abilities.

There’s little or no social interaction with NPCs. TBH Tielfing rogues and warlocks with a tragic or evil background are so common you wonder why they don’t have their own society… Argh… alignment. Another dead idea. And I’ve yet to meet a 5e player who wanted to contribute to the games world for the character background for non-human races.

Unfortunately, Wizards have mired themselves firmly into the Western fantasy trope for D&D. I’d love to see some of those settings like Dark Sun and Planescape, but based on the current releases they’d be nothing than a couple of pamphlets based on the Spelljammer “boxed set”. One of the reasons I stopped writing my Oath of Shadows novel was the heavy medieval Western fantasy trope it incorporated, and it felt unimaginative – a bit like a lot of D&D sessions in the last few years where in some cases the only interaction by some of the players were doing was rolling dice for tests. Players in other games often come up with plot hooks for the GM during play, but it’s like pulling teeth in D&D.

I’ve done a few OGL things over the years, but have steered clear of the DM’s Guild since 50% of the royalty goes straight away. There’s a huge amount of material on there, and although there’s good stuff, a lot it is crap. Writing OGL stat blocks are an absolute pain in the fundament, not to mention the mess they make in layout. I’d rather keep professional artists and layout/graphic artists in business so am unlikely to ever go do the self-publishing route unless I win the Lottery or come up with a kick-arse idea for a setting or gameto crowdfund. Someone would complain that it’s not 5e I’ve no doubt of that.

So, I’m unlikely to be writing any content for 5th Ed. D&D (if ever) over the next few months while the rumour mill cranks up over the OGL and expect another “leaked” doc that will wind up the various individuals with stakes in the OGL. If the OGL basis of your revenue stream, it might be a good time to diversify.

This might cost me some freelance work, but it’s not my sole recourse of income.

I’ll play most other RPGs but I’ve lost the will to run or play D&D. I’m tired of it. I’m D&D done.

Farewell to the old, in with the new for 2022

Sadly the Modiphius run of the Mutant Chronicles license is ending. It’s a pity but all good things come to an end. I’ve worked on various parts of the line. I had a few more bits and pieces I’d like to have seen published, but that’s just how it goes. Here’s the full announcement

In 2013, Modiphius started work on a reboot of the classic dieselpunk roleplaying game Mutant Chronicles, and along with it, our in house 2d20 roleplaying system.

Getting to work with Mutant Chronicles was a wild experience, I’d bought and played the games in the 90’s so being able to bring this universe back, and expand on the story was so much fun, especially for our new young company.

The project triggered our development of 2d20, the game system that would go on to fuel other Modiphius roleplaying games like Conan, John Carter of Mars, Infinity, Dishonored, Fallout, Achtung! Cthulhu and Dune. Jay Little (the designer behind FFG’s Star Wars RPG and X-Wing) was brought on board to take our fledgling ideas and turn them into a professional all singing, all dancing RPG system that could face the rigours of the Dark Symmetry and serve it up for breakfast!

Through the 2014 Kickstarter, we ended up funding 18 books, a Savage Worlds edition of the rules, GM screen, multiple card decks and RPG miniatures. We roamed the solar system, explored the different timelines, revealed never before seen secrets of the Mutant Chronicles universe, and brought the story to a stunning final climactic battle with the Dark Apostles on Earth. After that, we created the RPG tie-in for the Siege of the Citadel board game to let players take part in one of the greatest battles mankind would ever face.

Now 9 years later our journey through the Mutant Chronicles has come to an end, we feel like what we created moved the story on so much and filled in lots of gaps the fans had been asking for… and we realised this was a great time to close the story. It’s time to return it to the hands of Cabinet Licensing who I’m sure will have plans for the future (for example there is a new edition of Warzone in the works!)

We’re now placing all the remaining Mutant Chronicles stock on sale a 50% discount through our webstore so if you’ve been hanging on this is your last chance to pick up the Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition roleplaying game and its many supplements and remaining accessories.

At the same time, we’ll be making the remaining stock of Siege of the Citadel boardgame available very soon – from the base game to the various expansions – these are not going to retail so it will be your last chance to get this too.

Both lines will cease sales at the end of June so grab them while you can!
Chris Birch, Modiphius

On the other hand, I’ve been working on a number of ideas for the Achtung! Cthulhu line. That’s not all folks… I’ve finally been able to push ahead with a branch of the RP Haven in Edinburgh! If you’re an Edinburgh based RPGer (GM or player) it should be of interest:

We’re pleased to announce we are launching a role-playing club in Edinburgh late in 2022.
We never open a branch without speaking to the community first. If you like to be involved and help pick the location and games day/night, please help by completing this short survey.
Who are we? We are a Community Interest Company (CIC) whose mission statement is to introduce Tabletop Role Play Games (TTRPG’s) into the local community. We then give back to a charitable organisation in that very same community which often means the most to those who live, work and game in that locale. We are a fun, safe, gaming venue for all and above all else and pride ourselves on being inclusive for everyone.
For more information on The Role Play Haven, please visit our website www.rphaven.co.uk

2019 – Looking Forward, Not Back

In the past I’ve looked back on the previous year’s events, and made a few observations about the previous year, etc.

I’m not doing so much of that this time: I’ve been pretty busy over the last few months, and haven’t really had much time to game – as a GM or player. I have finally managed to get a game of Runequest. It only took me 30 years… I saw the ad in White Dwarf 93, but went for AD&D in the long run.

I did start another 5e edition D&D RPG group with 8 players in November – it’s a close-ended game due to finish this month. They’re a good group, and I hope they continue to play together. If they do, my work is done. It’s something I’ve begun to do more over the last few years. It’s difficult for me to commit to a regular session now with work these days.

In the past year I’ve done a lot. I indexed a number of Star Trek Adventures supplements. I’ve written/worked for the following Infinity RPG products to be published soon (if they’re not already out!): Gamemaster’s Guide, Shadow Affairs Campaign, Paradiso sourcebook, and the Combined Army sourcebook. I’m currently working on a new Infinity campaign too.

As well as working on the new 2d20 version of Achtung! Cthulhu core rulebook, the Achtung! Cthulhu Keeper’s Guide and Investigator’s Guide were converted to 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu by myself. I’ve been researching the forests of the Ardennes and Battle of the Bulge for the forthcoming Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 campaign.

In a very real way, the work I’ve done over the last couple of years has lead me to focus far more on the writing and editing/proofing. As a result, I’ve become a little more hard-nosed regarding my time outside of work. Freelance projects occupy much of my time at the weekend. It’s the sort of thing you can’t do in a 9-5 workday! I’ve also had to tough in the projects I can take on. I’m looking forward to clearing the decks for March. I’m away to poor Australia for almost the whole of February. We’re doing the grand tour of the cities – I hope the fires are out by then. The last few months have made me take some time away from social media. That’s unlikely to change until March!

The ORC Edinburgh pub meets restarted, and initially we had 12-20 people turning up although it petered off in the last session at the end of the year. So many people were looking for D&D games, and the opening of the Geek Retreat in Nicolson square has filled that niche. Loads more games going on at ORC still! the Ark Games night appears to be going strong along with the D&D nights at Mox in the Hole. ELG bounced back at Red Dice Games. And Blackwells on the bridges now do a monthly board games night where I hope to run some more D&D there later this year.

And finally… something I’ve been discussing for a while is bringing the RP Haven to Scotland. they’ve had a great year down South and are keen for me to help begin their journey north. Edinburgh will just be the start. This will not challenge any of the existing clubs or retailers. In fact it’s likely to complement retailers and give them free advertising. I’m slightly nervous about it, with other people’s money involved. At least i’m not doing it on my own! Sign up for the updates here: https://mailchi.mp/23690cd7dd43/rphaven

New Edinburgh RPG Club – thoughts

This is cobbled together from thoughts on Twitter and Facebook. It regards a new Edinburgh RPG Club. It’s something I’ve been considering for some time. While ORC Edinburgh is a community, it’s not a club. We have no fixed abode/venue. Having a regular RPG club venue and day removes at least two setup unknowns: “when” and “where”. It leaves “what (game)?” and “who (wants to play)?”

I’d like to create a branch of RPhaven.co.uk in Edinburgh as well, a new Edinburgh RPG club. The stumbling blocks are securing the necessary numbers of both GMs and players and an (affordable) venue. I’m not looking to “poach” (or steal) players and GMs from other venues or communities. Also not looking to be in competition with existing groups and Edinburgh RPG clubs.

I’m looking at getting over 60 people or more involved. It’d involve the formation of a committee. For financial oversight especially! This is due to the Edinburgh Club being part of a Community Interest Company (CIC).

The venue is undecided – it will depend on the numbers involved. A larger number of participants requires larger venues (for safety reasons not just space). Currently 4 tables of 6 is a minimum to ensure a decent baseline attendance. Plus a variety of RPGs to be played. One-off games as well as campaign RPGs. I’ve already approached the Pathfinder Society and D&D Adventurers League.

Launching in Summer 2020, the actual weekday remains to be determined. I’m currently speaking to stores and clubs regarding clashes during the week.

For me (and the Edinburgh RPG club), an established structure allows greater negotiating ability regarding venues. Plus oversight if needed – financial (or otherwise), and liability insurance. Also a continuance of the club’s existence in the event something untoward happens.

Want to keep up to date or register interest? Sign up to the RPHaven’s mailing list for the Edinburgh RPG Club Planning at: https://mailchi.mp/23690cd7dd43/rphaven

Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 Beta Test

I will begin running beta tests of Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 edition from February onward, as part of ORC Edinburgh, or at [ELG]. It’s one of several systems and worlds I work on, along with Infinity and the Mutant Chronicles. Most likely, they will be a series of one-off games. The venue(s) is/are to be confirmed, on a Saturday afternoon and/or evening or other club night as I’m planning to give the system a serious going over! I also will run some demos of Achtung! Cthulhu: Skirmish. It uses a bespoke Dystopian Wars rules set from the former Spartan Games, and is now part of Warcradle. Might be a good idea for me to paint those miniatures…

Here’s the pitch for Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20:

Set against a backdrop of WWII, a band of Allied heroes fight the Secret War against the Nazi occult. Powered with ancient secrets and otherworldly allies, these dark factions seek to unleash horrific monsters and alien weaponry upon the world. Join the investigators of the British Section M, or the American-led Majestic, to uncover these dangerous cults and destroy the Nazis behind their lines.
The upcoming new edition is designed to run with Modiphius’ 2d20 System to enhance the terrifying, pulp-action of the WWII setting, which promises stories of audacious Allied heroes, evil Nazi villains, super secret bunkers, and inhuman conspiracies from beyond the depths of time and space!
The 2d20 System has been developed by Nathan Dowdell (Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, Star Trek Adventures), from the original design by Jay Little for the Mutant Chronicles RPG (Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, X-Wing Miniatures).

For more information on Achtung! Cthulhu, see the Modiphius website at https://www.modiphius.com/achtung-cthulhu.html