Some Thoughts on $300 Dice

In celebration of D&D’s 45th anniversary, Wizards of the Coast released a beautiful set of metal dice, featuring a sapphire set in one of the d20. There are some other things that come along with the set; a nice display box, some stats for a Sapphire Dragon, and so on. And there is Clever Marketing™ all over this. They are only releasing 1,974 sets, for instance, in honour of D&D first being published in 1974. The sapphire is not only the 45th anniversary stone, but the 5th anniversary stone, so it also celebrates the anniversary of 5E. I’m not going to link to it, but if you search you can scroll through a whole page of hype before getting to the price at the bottom. Yes, this celebratory set of dice sells for a cool $299.95USD.

Let me be clear right from the start, I have no quibble with WotC partnering with Level Up Dice to create an expensive set of dice for their anniversary. Sometimes game companies are going to create expensive collectibles for our hobby, and that isn’t inherently bad. There are folks who will buy a set of these and enjoy their purchase for years to come. And to forestall any, “You’re just butt hurt because you can’t afford them!” comments, I can afford them. I work a well-paying, full-time job. While dropping $300 on a set of dice wouldn’t be insignificant, I could afford to do it. I’m just not going to.

My issue is that this seems to be the only thing WotC is doing to celebrate either of these milestones. In fact, if I type “celebrate 45 years of D&D” into my search engine, the first two pages of results all relate to the sale of this dice set. I have to get to page three before I see anything else, mostly op-eds regarding, you guessed it, the sale of these dice. But what I don’t see is any word from WotC about celebrating these anniversaries with anyone except the 1,974 people who purchase this set.

As of March of this year, there are an estimated 13.7 million folx playing D&D worldwide. Because large numbers are large, if I subtract 1,974 from 13.7 million, I’m pretty much left with 13.7 million. So WotC Marketing decided the best way to celebrate the anniversaries of both D&D and 5E was to sell an expensive item to a statistically insignificant portion of the millions of players who have made their game popular. To put this into further perspective, dividing 13.7 million by 1,974 means that one in 6,940 of us get to celebrate with WotC. The other 6,939 get to look at the pretty dice (assuming we can close enough to a set) and think warm thoughts, I guess?

What bugs me about this is twofold. First, at a time when the hobby as a whole is working to be ever more inclusive, WotC Marketing decides on a “celebration” driven by FOMO and elitism. Everything about the way they have marketed these dice, from their limited numbers to the “own a piece of history” rhetoric to the price point, makes it seems like WotC only wants to celebrate with the elite, and only after they have forked over their $300 for the party. If you aren’t one of those 1,974 people who can afford a ticket? Well gosh, hope you keep playing! Now here’s a warm slap on the ass, get back in there, champ!

The second thing that bugs me is that I know WotC is actually capable of celebrating an anniversary better than this. I was running in-store games during the 30th anniversary celebration (or 35th? Okay, the old memory is tricky). For that anniversary we received a box of stuff to help us run a special game day. It contained dice, figures, and special anniversary mechanical pencils to hand out to players and DMs, with enough for us to support up to six tables of D&D. The dice weren’t super special, and the mechanical pencil was white plastic with the D&D logo and “30th Anniversary” stamped on the side. I still have it, actually; when it ran out of lead I put it on my shelf so it wouldn’t get beat up in my dice bag anymore.  But the point is, about forty of us got together in a game store one Saturday and celebrated the anniversary of D&D in the best way possible: by playing the game. And it didn’t cost anyone there a dime.

Now, it is possible that WotC Marketing has some sort of community celebration planned, something that will reach out to the majority of the 13.7 million players supporting their game. But if so, all their marketing around this dice set has blocked word of it getting out. It’s also possible that WotC Marketing may pull something together last minute, as a reaction to the somewhat mixed response the dice have received. But that’s all it will be, a reaction, an offering designed to appease rather than celebrate.

As I said before, I won’t be buying a set of these. I hold nothing against anyone who does, because frankly, it’s a beautiful product and Level Up Dice should be proud of the design. For me, though, this dice set isn’t a celebration, however desperately WotC Marketing might frame it as such. Clever marketing around an anniversary? Sure. A celebration? To me, that suggests wanting everyone involved in your success to take part, and this is not that. It’s not even a signpost showing the way to the road that takes you to that.

Instead, I am going to take the $300 I could have spent on these dice and go shopping on Itch.io and DriveThruRPG, picking up some excellent games and supplements from marginalized creators in our hobby. I won’t do that all at once, but I’ll finish up by the end of January. I’ll post here with my purchases so you can see some of the amazing stuff to be found. To me, that seems a better way to use $300 to celebrate my hobby.

Feel free to leave a comment below or track me down on Twitter (@DorklordCanada), I’m happy to hear your thoughts. And if you would like to get yourself or someone you know an adorable Hedgicorn for their 5E game, you can do that on DM’s Guild. All proceeds go to support Extra Life, so not only do you get something fun for your table, but you help out sick kids around the Holidays.

Uncaged Anthology Volume Three Is Out!

Just in time for Halloween, Uncaged Anthology Volume Three is ready to bring some spoopy D&D adventures to your table. Like the previous two volumes, Volume Three is packed with exciting new takes on some classic and favourite D&D monsters, ready to grace your game night or con slot. Spearheaded by the amazing Ashley Warren and featuring cover art by Samantha Darcy, this beautiful new volume deserves a spot on your shelf. Maybe face out, so the cover can stare into your soul…

I’ve said it before but I never get tired of repeating it: the Uncaged Anthology series has been an unalloyed joy to work on. The writers and editors I have worked with have been a delight throughout the process. If you ever get a chance to work on a project with Ashley, count yourself a lucky person. The whole Uncaged Anthology project is an immense undertaking, and she has managed it with grace and skill. I am proud to be a small part of this project, and work with and for such stellar individuals.

So Volume Three is on-sale today, in both print and .pdf version. And of course you can also grab Volume One and Volume Two, also in print and .pdf, if you haven’t already done so. The team is hard at work getting Volume Four finished to round out the year, so keep your eyes pealed for that end-of-year treat. And don’t think Uncaged is just going away; there’s another project in the works for 2020 that is simply divine…

And if you are in need of an editor for your TTRPG or SF fiction project, please check out my rate page. I am currently raising funds for Extra Life, and until the end of November you can get twenty pages of editing for a $50 donation to Extra Life. A steal of a deal and it helps sick kids, so what’s not to love? Check out the details on my rate page.

The Hedgicorn

I love coming up with weird, quirky things for my D&D campaign. As one of my groups is entering a pocket of the Faewylde, I wanted to create something special for them to encounter. I love faerie, because done properly they hide a frightening power behind a cute facade. So I thought to myself, how could I make something as adorable as the hedgehog a formidable encounter for my group?

Enter the hedgicorn! All the majestic power of the unicorn, crammed into a tiny hedgehog package. Protector of the small folk of the fae, guardian of lost children, indomitable alone and well nigh unstoppable when gathered in common purpose with other hedgicorns. I loved the idea so much I had my buddy Jeff Martin do up some art for it, pictured. Jeff is a fantastic artist, and I think he captured my weird little creation perfectly.

Not only is this the first creature I have created for any TTRPG that I have commissioned art for, but this now marks my first creation published on DMs Guild. It seemed appropriate, as this is the start of my Extra Life campaign for 2019, that this fierce guardian of lost children should benefit children in the real world. So in perpetuity, you can purchase The Hedgicorn on the DMs Guild for just $1.99US, with all proceeds going to benefit Extra Life.

I hope the hedgicorn will find a place at your table. It has made for an interesting beastie in my campaign, and I would love for some wizard or druid to adopt one as a familiar or animal companion.

If you do use it in your campaign, please let me know how it goes. Any feedback will be incorporated into updated versions, as tweek and adjust it through my own usage.

Uncaged Volume One: Updates

I was just going to add this to my previous post regarding Uncaged Volume One, but there was just too much!

The hardcover version is now available through Drivethru’s print-on-demand. And there is a special bundle price if you want the PDF and print copies together. Which is what I did; the PDF is easier to use at the table, and the print copy is easier for me to pick up and read through. Plus it’s way easier to get the print copy signed at cons. Sharpie is just so hard on my laptop’s screen.

Also, a huge thank-you to everyone who purchased a copy so far. Thanks to you, Uncaged Volume One is currently a Platinum Best-seller on DM’s Guild, and steadily working its way to Mithril. That’s all down to the support you have shown this amazing project. If you have purchased Uncaged, please also leave a review on the product page, as active reviews help keep it in everyone’s eye. It’s not a surprise to me, having read through it, that Uncaged is enjoying an average of five stars.

If you have a moment, stop by and tell Ashley Warren how much you appreciate the work she has done in pulling these anthologies together. And if you are so inclined to thank her in a more tangible manner, you can check out her website for other things she has worked on, and purchase whatever strikes your fancy.

As well, Uncaged is partnering with Non-Toxic Gaming to host a charity stream benefiting RAINN. The community around the Uncaged Anthologies is so wonderful, it’s probably one of the best parts of being part of this project, to be honest. Details at the link, but keep your day free and your wallet full for that.

What else? Uncaged Volume Two is on track for its April release, so get ready for more adventure goodness. And if you’re going to Gen Con, keep your eye out for an Uncaged panel on the schedule; no details yet but it will be a good time and I plan to be in the front row with all the enthusiasm of a winning sports team’s biggest fan! I’ll leave the airhorn at home, however.

Uncaged Anthology

Good morning! I won’t bury the lead: I edited a few of the adventures featured in Uncaged Anthology, which is available today over at the DM’s Guild!

I was lucky enough to see this project come into existence in real time on Twitter. It started as a question posed by Ashley Warren about a series of mythology-based one-shots. The response was amazing, and Ashley took the wheel and brought the massive ship that is any anthology project onto an even keel, and it was underway. When the call went out for editors I eagerly put my name in, and was lucky to be asked to take on some of the adventures.

I only grabbed my copy this morning, so expect an in-depth review later. But if the two adventures I work on were any indication of the overall quality (and I have every reason to believe it is so), you will want to grab this book post haste. It is a beautiful book packed with one-shot D&D adventures which could be dropped with ease into your campaign. Given the mythological theme which binds them, they could even form the basis of a campaign, as your players explore the myths and legends of your world.

I’m really excited to read this and get some of these adventures on the table. Even more exciting, this is only Volume One, so expect even more adventures to come!

Once you’ve had a chance to pick up a copy and look it over, I hope you’ll stop by and let me know which are your favourites. And should you be looking for an editor for your TTRPG project, well, I have a page about that. Let’s talk!

November RPG Blog Carnival: Worldbuilding

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is all about world building, something I’ve been doing a lot of for my two D&D 5e campaigns. I thought I’d share a little something from the primer I created for my players to help give them a sense of the world.

While I generally kept the mechanics of the various PHB races as written, I changed the backgrounds of almost all the races to better fit the events of my campaign world. I made two big changes right at the start. First, only some of the playable races are native to the campaign world (dragonborn, dwarves, halflings, humans, half-orcs, and tieflings) while the rest derive from the invader races (elves, dark elves, gnomes, half-elves). Second, I try to refer to them as “species” rather than “races”, as I later intend to make a distinction between a character’s species and culture when I flesh out the game world.

So below is my quickie primer on the species of my campaign world. I’ve stuck with the native species for this post, and I’ll talk about the invader species in a later post.

Intelligent Species Native to Cotterell

Dragonborn

Dragonborn are a race created by the Draconic Empires to fight in the Gate Wars. A dragonborn is created in one of two ways. The first involves an arcane process kept secret by the Empire, by which the dragonborn are gestated in an egg and hatch as almost fully-formed adults. This process involves the passing along of racial memories, so the “Eggborn” are able to mature very quickly into adult dragonborn. The second involves the arcane manipulation of an infant or very young child from another race, to change them into a dragonborn. In this case the “Created” must be raised as normal, as it is not possible to transfer racial memories during this process.

While it was not conceived that the race could or would ever breed true, to the surprise of the Draconic Empire that came to pass shortly after the Cataclysm. These naturally born offspring are still hatched from an egg, and racial memories do seemed to be passed along, though the infant must still be raised normally. However, maturity is still reach sooner than with a comparable human infant; puberty is reached by age 5 or 6, and such dragonborn are considered young adults by age 10-12.

Telling them apart from each other ranges in complexity. It is easy to tell a Created from the other two types of dragonborn; unlike the Eggborn and natural born, the Created have no tails. Telling the difference between naturally born and Eggborn can be more difficult, though not impossible. Generally the Eggborn are less socially well-adjusted than their natural born cousins. Racial memories do not include social interaction, so while they are not generally unfriendly, the Eggborn tend to be more socially awkward and bad at picking up on social cues. And of course, any dragonborn child encountered can safely be assumed to be a natural born, as long as it has a tail.

Dwarves

Even before the Gate Wars and the Cataclysm, Dwarves were divided into two distinct groups. Mountain Dwarves avoid contact with other races, remaining in their Great Halls (cities) under the mountains across Cotterell. Even when called to war, they fight in full suits of Dwarven steel armour which utilize full helms which they never remove except in private. Only on the rare occasion that another race is granted audience with a Dwarven ruler, is there the possibility of seeing a Mountain Dwarf’s face. It is uncertain whether this restriction is societal or religious, as no Dwarf will speak of it even if questioned.

Hill Dwarves, on the other hand, maintain contact with other lands through trade and commerce, and make-up what would be considered the diplomatic corps for the Dwarven peoples. They predominantly live in communities built near both Great Halls and other cities, the better to facilitate trade and diplomacy. Except under exceptional circumstances, if you see the smiling face of a dwarf outside of the Great Halls, you look upon a Hill Dwarf.

Halflings

Due to the Faewild Gate opening in the heart of their lands, and the subsequent Cataclysm laying waste to that same territory, halflings are a largely displaced population. Both agrarian and inventive by nature, the halflings were largely responsible for the innovations which allowed cities swollen with refugees and survivors after the Cataclysm to be able to eke out enough food to survive. They were among the first races to begin pushing out from the cities once it was deemed safe, reclaiming useable farmland a few feet at a time, if necessary. Eager to reclaim what was once theirs, halflings were also among the first races to fund and/or lead trade caravans (restoring overland contact between the Survivor Cities) as well as expeditions to explore further into the countryside.

Half-orc

Before the Cataclysm, the Orcish City States were centres of learning and knowledge, home to universities and libraries unparalleled except in the Dragon Empire. While much history has been lost, however, it is still remembered that the Orc City States rode to fight alongside Cotterell in the Gate Wars, and they suffered losses just as great during the Cataclysm. Greater, some might say, as the orcish cities relied heavily on magic and so were severely disrupted during the Cataclysm. They also came under the heaviest post-Cataclysm attacks, being closer to the Faewilde Gate. So complete was the disruption and so overwhelming the attacks, each orcish city chose to flee with as much of their collection of knowledge as they could carry, becoming nomads. Each nomadic group is charged with the protection, preservation, and adding to of the knowledge they carry. They have done so in the centuries since the Cataclysm, with the hope they may one day rebuild their cities and make this knowledge safe again.

So while Orcish ancestry may be considered odd and even undesirable to the rare few, there is no widespread prejudice against half-orcs. It should also be noted, the term “half-orc” is used to describe any person with obvious signs of orcish ancestry, regardless of how far back that ancestry entered the bloodline.

Tieflings

Tieflings are a comparatively young race, as they came about as a direct result of the magical contamination following the Cataclysm. Borrowed from the Fae, the word “tiefling” roughly translates as “spoiled” in the Common tongue. No one is quite sure how it happens, but a small portion of children born among all races come into the world bearing the mark of magical contamination. Some have odd hair or eye colours, while others may sprout horns, grow a tail, or manifest wings. Whatever the outward signs, that person will also manifest strange abilities and magical aptitudes.

As noted above, Tieflings can derive from any of the other species. While there may be mistrust and discrimination on a case by case basis, there is no widespread stigma to being a Tiefling. For many people, the existence of Tieflings is simply a daily reminder that the Elves still have much to answer for.

What do you do for races/species in your campaigns? And don’t forget to check out the other RPG Blog Carnival entries for this topic.

RG House Rules: Dump Everything but Stats!

Today’s post is actually a supplement to my weekly post over at The Rat Hole. If you check out over there, I talked about a possible house rule to deal with what I consider useless Ability Scores in D&D 5e. Here I’m going to talk about a second way of making ability scores useful again.

As I noted in my other article, I love rolling up ability scores for D&D characters. Those scores are the foundation upon which I build the rest of my character. But in 5e, once you’ve generated those scores they don’t do anything. The bonuses that derive from them do a lot of work, bumping up skill checks and saving throws. But the ability scores themselves are static, with no purpose. That’s why, when I saw them sitting lifeless on the page I knew I needed to restore them to usefulness.

My plan to put ability scores back to work is actually pretty simple, just three steps. First, get rid of saving throws and skills. Second, in their place, switch to a “roll under” method of determining success, using the character’s ability scores. If the character has proficiency in that ability, they add the proficiency bonus to the ability score before rolling, and must roll under that number. Sounds a little crazy? Let me explain.

Let’s look at Grognard the Barbarian, who has to make a Constitution saving throw of DC 13. Grognard has a 16 Constitution score, because barbarian.  He’s only first level so he has a proficiency bonus of +2 and an ability bonus of +3, for a +5 to his Constitution saves. That’s pretty good, especially at first level, but there is still a decent chance that Grognard will get knocked flat on his butt; frankly annoying when playing a big, tough character. Using roll under, however, Grognard would need to roll under 18 (Constitution score of 16, plus his proficiency bonus of +2) on a d20. So most of the time, Grognard is going to shrug off any Constitution-based attacks, which for a barbarian is as it should be.

This extends to skill checks as well. You would retain any Skill proficiencies from character creation or other sources, and add that as a bonus to the relevant ability score when making a Skill check that relates to that proficiency. As in the example above, this will allow a character proficient in a particular skill to succeed more often than not. Which, as the hero of your particular story, they should be doing anyway. But it also allows some flexibility in what ability scores to use when making a skill check. Yes, most of the time you’ll use the score commonly associated with that skill, but sometimes your player might make a good case for another ability score to be used. Or you as the DM might switch things up and decide that another ability score better fits the challenge the character is facing.

As a balancing factor, we come to the third step in my “cunning” plan: subtract 10 from the DCs of any skill checks or saving throws, and apply the result as a negative modifier on the character’s ability score for the roll. So in our example above, Grognard may have an effective 18 Constitution because he is a big, tough barbarian. But the poison gas (let’s say) he is trying to resist is a particularly noxious kobold blend, so he takes a -3 penalty (DC 13 – 10 = 3), making his effective Con score a 15. Still a decent chance of success, but enough harder that it will make Grognard think twice about rushing into the cloud if he doesn’t have to.

While the house rule I’m suggesting is for skill checks and saving throws, it could be extended to combat. Simply subtract 10 from the opponent’s AC and apply the result as a negative modifier to the relevant ability check. So an AC of 14 is a -4 modifier, AC 21 is -11, and so on. Positive modifiers would be proficiency bonuses, plus any magical or situational modifiers. So if Grognard is attacking with his mighty 18 Strength, using his new +1 greataxe Helmcleaver, against an opponent with an AC of 15, he’ll roll under 16 in order to hit (18 + 2 + 1 = 21 – 5 = 16). Grognard has a pretty good shot at turning his opponent to mush, but it isn’t guaranteed.

So that’s my suggested house rule in a nutshell. Obviously I would want to play test this before implementing it on a regular basis, because I’m sure there are situations and corner cases where it might need some tweaking. But altogether I think it’s an effective way of making ability scores useful again, and also serves to make the characters a bit more heroic in stature.

But what do you think? Am I crazy? Is it a workable solution, or am I tampering with things nerdkind was not meant to explore? Let me know what you think below. And check out my article over at The Rat Hole for a house rule idea pretty much the opposite of this one.