D&D 5e and PDFs

D&D 5e PDFsI have been buying the D&D 5e products as they have been released. I have been very pleasantly surprised with the system since I started reading the Basic Rules. The Starter Set seemed very nice (though lack of cardstock covers was a stupid decision) as well. I already had the Player’s Handbook on pre-order and ordered Hoard of the Dragon Queen shortly after starting my read of the PHB.

Rules wise D&D 5e looks like it will be fun to run and play. It seems a nice mixture of some older school though with some newer mechanics. The things I don’t like about it are often called out as optional (Dragonborn, Tieflings, and feats – I am looking at you). And that is what led me to order Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

I am looking to run a weekend family game (plus some close friends) and was trying to decide between the Starter Set adventure and Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Both look like fun to run, so I am still a little in the undecided camp. But, this post isn’t about that – I just wanted to be clear up front that so far I am very impressed with 5e and supporting material.

Except for one thing. I need PDFs!

Mearls on PDFs

PDFs and 5e is of course a frequent question from folks. All the major game systems have PDFs of the rules. Just in games I play – Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, etc, etc – all have PDFs of the rules. Most, if not all, have PDFs of the adventures available for them as well. We’ve had this option for years.

Now we know Wizards isn’t entirely afraid of PDFs anymore. Just look at http://www.dndclassics.com/ Lots of PDFs available for versious D&D versions and supplements through the years. Awesome stuff!

So why no PDFs for 5e yet?

Well – between the recent EN World interview and Tome Show interview with Mike Mearls we can piece together some of what is going on. Let’s look at each point (summarized by me, but feel free to read or listen to the actual interviews at the links above).

There has been no official announcement on PDF support. It sound like Wizards is interested in some form of electronic distribution, but haven’t decided what will work best. So they are playing it safe and possibly watching how things evolve.

Eh – sort of makes sense. But the lack of official announcement or being very forthcoming with what is going on is actually causing some of the bad rap Wizards is getting out there in the community. Talk to us. Let us know what is coming. Folks are making decisions now – PDF support factors in for some people.

They want to avoid people feeling cheated because the bought the PDF of something, but then find out they have to pay for Dungeonscape content.

Hey! That’s why you make official announcements and let people know what is up. Tell people – here is a PDF version, but be aware we have this cool new tool coming where you will need to buy content in it as well. So if you want the cool new tool you might want to hold off on buying the PDF. But for those who don’t care about the new electronic tool, here are the PDFs.

So much of Wizards bad feelings on the 5e release has been the lack of communication. Which has left people guessing and something thinking the worst. Communicate! It would solve the PDF vs. electronic tool purchase decision for a lot of folks.

They don’t want to cause undo competition with Dungeonscape, the electronic tool coming for 5e by the end of this year. So rather than harming the Dungeonscape initiative Wizards is holding off on anything that might compete with that electronic product.

I only know what I have read online about Dungeonscape. Again – folks are pretty vague about this. But some info did trickle out from Gen Con and here is what I have to say to this. Dungeonscape sounds more like Hero Lab for Pathfinder than a PDF replacement. It can handle character generation, let me add some custom items, and walk me through several rules based things. But it doesn’t sound like a PDF replacement, just a character generator/campaign management tool. It sounds neat, but not the PDF format I desire.

Again – up front communication would solve the competition issue I think. I suspect it would become clear these aren’t really identical products. Or at least with enough official info we could determine which path we wanted to take as a consumer.

I will have more on Dungeonscape in a minute on what if it is the PDF replacement, but read on.

Wizards wants to figure out a way to provide a stripped down utilitarian format PDF type electronic distribution, because that is what people want.

What!? If this is the thought I think Wizards is way out of touch with what us folks that like PDF versions of products expect. I don’t want a stripped down utilitarian version. I want art, I want maps, I want tables, I want bookmarked PDFs, and hyperlinks between sections. I like layers in adventure PDFs, because that helps me with online games. By no means do I want a stripped down utilitarian PDF.

I understand there is a group of folks that want ePub format. I don’t really fall into that camp as I find the PDF format extremely versatile, multi-platform, easy to use with cloud storage, etc, etc. But I don’t even think the ePub folks want a stripped down version, they just want a fully featured electronic format that is actually useful.

There is some note of splitting a PDF or electronic pieces – i.e. just the fighter, just the spells. Uh – no, I don’t want this either. I don’t want to buy my electronic document via microtransactions. I want the whole thing.

dungeonscape_logoDungeonscape

A lot of attention is going towards Dungeonscape as the answer for electronic distribution. First, from what I have read I am skeptical it is going to actually be in a position to replace PDFs. It sounds much, much more like a character generation tool and/or campaign management tool. Cool stuff to be sure (I love Hero Lab for Pathfinder, but it doesn’t replace PDFs of Pathfinder products – they are different tools).

But let’s say Dungeonscape does let me read the rulebook from page 1 to the end. And that it can handle adventures (because, really – I want a PDF of Hoard of the Dragon Queen which I am getting to…).

This is a no deal for me. I simply don’t trust a 3rd party for a niche hobby to be a long lived company. I certainly hope they stick around while the edition is supported, but I am thinking longer term. Small companies just don’t have the resources to keep up as easily as someone like Adobe who makes my PDF reader.

Supposedly you can use Dungeonscape offline which several have said is good enough. But what if my iPad crashes and Trapdoor Technologies is no longer around? Did they let me make backups of my data files? Or do I need to redownload them from their servers (ooops, they shut them down for 6e). Or say iOS jumps in version, will their app still work? I have apps that are still supported that need to release updates to work with the new iOS versions. How about web browser updates? There are just way too many things that I can’t get from a 3rd party who may or may not exist in 5 years.

Meanwhile PDFs are a standard. There are multiple companies that make readers for PDFs. Big companies. If the PDF standard gets passed to the wayside for something better, I can count on some company to build in a tool to save existing files in the new format. A pain to be sure, but an option. And given the predominance of the PDF format I can simply trust that I can access or convert my PDF files in some form or fashion for many, many years to come – regardless of what happens to Paizo or Wizards as companies.

Hoard of the Dragon QueenWhy I want a PDF

A lot of people want a PDF version of the PHB. And I am in that camp. But this post is more about a PDF of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. So much of my adventure prep these days is done from PDF. I can put the file in my Google Drive and access it from any computer I use regularly, my iPad and even my phone. This is extremely convenient for me. I do a lot of game prep away from home. Having the adventure (and rules) in electronic format is a huge plus for me.

As I noted earlier, a large number of companies already give me this ability. So here is how I use the PDF for game prep.

First, just a general read through of the adventure while at lunch, while waiting for an appointment, etc. This need is pretty easily met in nearly any electronic form, but I prefer PDF for the supportability and lifespan of PDFs as opposed to 3rd party proprietary software that I must use to read the material.

Second, I extract the maps out of the PDF for use in online play via Roll20 or something similar. Paizo used layers on their maps so I actually ended up with player ready versions of the maps in mere moments. Super cool. Without a PDF I am left with the cumbersome option of scanning actual book pages. While I can do this, it takes a lot longer manipulating the scanner and rescanning the ones I inevitably mess up by not having the book straight, etc.

Third, if so motivated I can capture images of NPCs or generate handouts for the players. This is especially true for online games. This again is much more difficult without a PDF version of the adventure. My prep time increases and it is a hindrance to online play. And a lot of my gaming happens online these days.

Maps for Sale

To be fair, in regards to Hoard of the Dragon Queen the maps are for sale by the cartographer in digital form. At quick glance it looks like it would cost $18.50 to purchase all of the maps from the adventure. That could solve my online map issue. I do question spending $18.50 on maps and still not having a PDF version I can use anywhere and still not having an easy way to handle handouts, or NPC pics though. I also have no guarantee future cartographers for future adventures will do the same thing.

Summary

These are the reasons why I want a PDF of the rules and adventures. The face of gaming has changed over the years and more and more of us rely on PDFs for game prep – both for face-to-face games and online games. The other big player in the gamespace provides PDFs for all of their supplements. So to woo some of those folks away, Wizards will need to provide similar materials to help support the way we prep for games.

I like what I have seen of 5e so far. It looks like a solid system. I am just getting frustrated as I prep this adventure with no electronic support. I get even more frustrated when I see Wizard’s representatives trying to tell me what I really want is a stripped down, utilitarian electronic format of the rules or adventure. No – I want the PDF – my game prep is centered around having such tools at my disposal and I feel safer in my “investment” of a PDF than a proprietary 3rd party software app for a niche industry.

Episode 21: Getting the Gang Back Together

dcc_rpg_cover_smallGetting the Gang Back Together’ is the 21st episode of a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG actual play podcast. Additional information can be found at http://irontavern.com/podcast.

Session Synopsis

The seasoned adventurers return to the Great City from their respective journeys. Meeting at the Temple of the Moon the group makes plans for their next steps. The group seeks to make deals with the Thieve’s Guild and meet up with an old friend as they do so. With an arrangement in place, the crew seeks to gather the final component to bring Emirikol back from the dead.

Download Link: http://irontavern.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Episode-21.mp3

Credits

Intro and outro music is ‘Wrecking Ball’ from 137 from http://music.mevio.com.

 

DCC Actual Play Podcast Meta

DCC RPG Rulebook Cover w-HeadphonesAs I finish the final mixing of audio for Episode #21 of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Actual Play podcast I felt the need for a “meta” post. This covers some of the behind the scenes thoughts that happen in the campaign that don’t get recorded and get discussed in our community group.

Regular listeners know the group put their high level characters on a bit of a hiatus and picked up some lower level guys in the town of Cillimar. Some stayed in the town, others went back to the Great City and some went off into the mountains to seek keys to unlock great power.

The high level characters at the time had just come off a beating at the tower of Leotah. She had laid a gauntlet of sorts for them as a defensive measure. A measure that took its toll on the characters who ran it (Episode #15 if you are curious).

It was around this time they decided to get some downtime in Cillimar and take some new characters, lower level characters out for a spin. The next several podcast releases focused on those new lower level characters. A good time was had, but after awhile the players began to miss their higher level characters.

There was much discussion in our private community group and the decision was made to return to the high level characters. There were several plot hooks that were unanswered and as the time passed (real time) with the lower level group, the gang wanted to make a return to the Great City.

We’ve experimented a lot in this campaign with introducing new characters. I piloted a ‘cut-scene funnel’, i.e. running a funnel adventure with a whole new set of characters who could later join the main group as replacements. The trial in Cillimar was another such experiment.

With the decision made to go back to the main, high level characters I believe we have reached the closing phases of the campaign as a whole. There are several major plot elements to resolve, some of which continue to unfold in the as of yet released episodes.

In either case, the soon to be released Episode #21 marks the return to the characters affectionately known as Satan’s Glee Club.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses…

Wow! Time really slips by in the summer! If you don’t stay right on top of things you’ve gone two weeks without a blog post or actual play release! I fully blame summer and the long hours of daylight for these problems. Oh – and a computer crash that took up way too much of my time over the past week (between troubleshooting and restoring).

The computer is up and running again. I have all my data as the majority of it is on cloud services and the rest in a Time Machine backup. Which while was a little flaky, was recoverable. So where does that leave things?

DCC RPG Actual Play

On the Actual Play front, I hope to finish the rough edits and polish on an episode early this week and get Episode #21 out by Wednesday for Thursday. The group had been rather schizophrenic in regards to which set of characters they wanted to play. Episode #21 finds them back with the high level guys and beginning the conclusion of the campaign. This topic likely warrants a more in-depth post prior to the release of the episode, we will see if I get that done.

Iron Tavern Press

Despite the most recent release being Zedkiel’s Chapel things are progressing very well for Iron Tavern Press. The edits are done on the next release (working title Calamity Mine), artwork is rolling in for it, and the first set of maps almost complete. Layout needs finished, one more proofing and editing pass and it should be out. Hopefully no later than the end of August.

A piece rolled in over the weekend from another writer for Iron Tavern Press as well. It is an awesome adventure and particularly happy to have this writer on board for this project. I’m going sit on the name of the author for just a bit – you know – to build some suspense and mystery over what is to become Pocket-Sized Encounter #6.

Once the 6th release is out the plans for Iron Tavern Press is to branch out from the PSE line and into DCC RPG. I already have a writer that has nearly completed the first adventure in this line. Playtesting is done and it is back with the author for some revisions based on the playtest.

Mapping

Picked up another set of freelance work over the weekend with a publisher I have worked with before. Looks to be an awesome project and a chance to try out a different mapping look for me.

Gaming

Through all of this I have still been gaming! The DCC game continues as it races towards its climax. Due to scheduling issues in August I will be running another Barrowmaze mini-delve for two weeks. I have the hook for that all prepped and ready to go. Should be a fun romp through the dungeon!

And my local group has been playing Pathfinder with some old-school modules. Keep on the Borderlands has made an appearance, as well as Tomb of the Lizard King, and Night’s Dark Terror.

Back to Work

So there it is! Despite a lack of visible output things have been busy behind the scenes!

Review: The God-Seed Awakens

The God-Seed Awakens CoverAuthor:  Paul Wolfe
Publisher:  Mystic Bull Games
Art: Doug Kovacs (cover), David Fisher, Jason Sholtis, Mario Torres, Jr.
Price: PDF $8.99 or Print $15.00 – RPG Now
Pages: 53

The Basics

The God-Seed Awakens is the newest adventure from Mystic Bull Games, written by Paul Wolfe for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG system. The adventure is intended for four to six 3rd level characters.

The cover is graced with the wonderful artwork of Doug Kovacs. The interior has pieces from David Fisher, Jason Sholtis, and Mario Torres, Jr. This review is based on both the Print and PDF versions of the adventure.

A living seed has found its way here from a distant world. A seed from a world-spanning tree where its roots made their way deep to the underworld and branches to the sky above. With the growth of the world-tree unstopped it managed to breach the confines of reality and find ways to other worlds. Two of the creatures from the seed have begun to raise forces from this world to further their own interests.

The backdrop of this adventure is an area around Mount Welwood. A judge can easily drop this area into their existing campaign world or download a hex-map from the Mystic Bull website for new campaigns. Several rumors (including a rumor table!) and hooks are included in the adventure to help a judge spur the characters to action!

In addition to the adventure a full patron write-up is included, new spells, new magic items, and many new monsters.

The artwork is liberally spread throughout the adventure. When one faces lots of new creatures, the accompanying artwork is a very useful tool for the judge to help describe the creatures to their players.

The included maps are clean and cover the cave system within Mount Welwood and the Seed of the Worldbreaker.

My Thoughts

Mystic Bull Games went all out with the cover on this one! Awesome art by Doug Kovacs. I saw the original to this one at Gary Con when Doug had it with him. It looked great then and it looks great on the actual printed module. The beast on the front with the eyes and mouth of a starfield is an excellent touch. And something about the cultists on the ledge really appeals to me.

As I noted earlier in the review, the module has a good amount of art throughout. While helping avoid any “walls of text” the art is a boon to judges in describing the new creatures the characters will encounter in this module. A definite plus.

The module hits the DCC “feel” by having a dimension traveling tree spreading its seed to other worlds. Couple the very premise with the vast array of atypical creatures and a DCC judge is sure to keep his players on their toes. The beauty of it all is the hooks start with things such as glowing spiders, raggedly dressed people preaching of a new god, and such. Then the characters will find themselves at odds with the creatures of the god-seed. I really like the more “typical” setup that really leads to anything but “typical”!

I also like that a full patron write-up is included for Shaloth. My players have the tendency to pick patrons from various modules I run. Some only have the patron and no write-up to go with them. The full write-up for Shaloth would be of great aid should a character choose this patron. Or if I wanted to borrow it for my campaign even without running the module.

Wrap Up

The God-Seed Awakens is great add to the DCC judge’s bag of tricks. With the ease of dropping it into an existing campaign and the plethora of items to borrow for an existing campaign the latest release from Mystic Bull Games is sure to find some use.

Episode 20: Regrouping

dcc_rpg_cover_smallRegrouping’ is the twentieth episode of a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG actual play podcast. Additional information can be found at http://irontavern.com/podcast.

Session Synopsis

With near devastating casualties on the last folks the party sent to Castle Whiterock it is time to recruit some new ones for another push into the castle. Regrouping in Cillamar the group sets out again to root the monks out of the ruins. A perilous climb up the tower high above the ruins grants the party egress into the castle via a different route. That path is not without hazard however…

 

Download Link: http://irontavern.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Episode-20.mp3

Credits

Intro and outro music is ‘Wrecking Ball’ from 137 from http://music.mevio.com.

 

 

Behind The Curtain: Shorter Adventures

Iron Tavern Press LogoThis post is part of a ‘Behind the Curtain’ series for Iron Tavern Press. They are intended to provide some insight to design decisions made for current and future product lines.

Gamer’s time is limited these days. A lot of us have taken on responsibilities of families and careers. These responsibilities cut into our free time and can often lead to playing shorter or more infrequent sessions – if we get to play at all. Even the younger gamers, still new to hobby have a plethora of other interests bidding for their recreational time.

Today’s Gamer

An informal poll of G+ users several months ago indicated the average length of session hovered in the 2 to 3 hour range. This informal poll holds true to my experience as well. My online sessions are 2 hours long and my weekly face-to-face session is only about 3 to 3.5 hours of actual playing time. A far cry from how the sessions of my youth used to be!

Not only are sessions shorter, but for some they are more infrequent. Maybe every other week or once a month. Sometimes that is simply the schedule and other times cancellations make that the more realistic gaming interval.

So What?

What does this shorter and sometimes more infrequent session time mean? It means trying to play through long sprawling adventures can be a chore. Either you can’t get enough accomplished in a single session to feel meaningful or it takes months to close a story arc. Sometimes you just need a short side-trek to fill a session or two where only part of your gaming group can make it.

GMs also tend to have less time to prep for sessions. Or sometimes they need a quick option for a night of gaming. Something that doesn’t take hours of preparation, but rather a brief read through and a small map for an evening of entertainment.

And that is where the Pocket-Sized Encounters line comes in…

Pocket-Sized Encounters

The Pocket-Sized Encounters line from Iron Tavern Press aims to fill this gap. The products are written to be played in sessions that last 2 to 4 hours. This makes is easier to pick one up and finish it in a single session while providing a fun night of play. Something the players and can feel good about accomplishing contributing to the fun of the session.

In addition they purposefully try to keep themselves adaptable. Towns are not explicitly named. Directions to the mountains or hills or plains are kept loose, only that there are some nearby. This helps make it even easier to drop into any campaign world on the spur of the moment. The intent is to drastically reduce the GM’s prep time by not being overly detailed with the backdrop forcing the GM to adapt entire villages or regions he has already taken efforts to detail.

Several adventure seeds are provided in each product so a GM can pick one and integrate with their campaign world. And for a GM that wants to expand the scenario beyond how it is written a ‘Where To From Here’ section is included with suggestions on how to get even more gameplay out of the scenario. So while remaining highly portable from one setting to another, there is information in each PSE to turn it into something bigger.

Each product includes a random table to further help a GM add detail on the fly. Tables from random treasure hordes, to random items found, to rumor tables. All are there to help a GM have the answers to those unpredictable twists and turns a players like to throw at you!

And finally – the maps included with the product are provided in GM’s versions, Player’s versions, gridded, and gridless. More tools to help a GM to be able to pickup a PSE product and be up and running with a limited amount of prep time.

Summary

The changing landscape of gaming are some of the driving factors in creating useful adventures for today’s GMs. The Pocket-Sized Encounter line is there for busy GMs, shorter sessions, and the infrequent gamer to provide an evening of entertainment at a moment’s notice.

You can check out one of the products in the PSE line at RPGNow.

Did you like this Behind the Curtain post? Don’t miss Default System Choice or Cover Art – Or Lack Thereof.

Episode 19: Trouble in Castle Whiterock

dcc_rpg_cover_smallTrouble in Castle Whiterock’ is the nineteenth episode of a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG actual play podcast. Additional information can be found at http://irontavern.com/podcast.

Session Synopsis

This week we check-in on Meffridus, Kpnooney Klaus, Tsanth and the others. From them we learn there has been a possible attack on the Temple of the Moon through the sewers. With precautions put in place we return to the exploration of Castle Whiterock.

With the monks having retreated further into a defensible portion of the ruins, the new crew works on ferreting them out. Their position turns out to be much more defensible than originally thought.

Meta Note: This episode includes a little bit of meta discussion at the end of the session. It frames some of the future direction and felt it should be included. Also – the end seems an abrupt cut-off due to me accidentally cutting the good-byes I normally leave in there.

Download Link: http://irontavern.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Episode-19.mp3

Credits

Intro and outro music is ‘Wrecking Ball’ from 137 from http://music.mevio.com.

Zedkiel’s Chapel Now Available

Zedkiel’s Chapel, written by Dustin Clark, is the fourth release in the Pocket-Sized Encounter line from Iron Tavern Press. This and the other releases in the line are available at RPGNow and shop.d20pfsrd.com.

Two brave adventurers rescued Zedkiel the scholar on his way home from the tavern. A large bat-like creature had attacked the man and certainly would have slain him had Ulad and Frango not intervened. A month later reports of another large bat-like creature surfaced as several townsfolk were killed one night under a full moon. Ulad and Frango grew suspicious and discovered something horrid had happened to Zedkiel. The man eluded them until the pair of adventurers discovered the strange abandoned chapel Zedkiel was using as a hideout. The characters have a choice to make – seek out and destroy Zedkiel or aid him against the vigilante townsfolk.

A Pocket-Sized Encounter compatible with the Swords & Wizardry rules system for 2nd to 4th level character.

Pocket-Sized Encounters from Iron Tavern Press are shorter scenarios designed to be dropped into an existing campaign with minimal preparation. Use them for shorter sessions, provide your players with choices that won’t derail your campaign or even as a launching point for a new campaign path.

Zedkiel's Chapel Cover

Included in this adventure are:

  • New Werebat Monster
  • Multiple adventure hooks
  • Location based encounter area map (grid and gridless)
  • Seeds for expanding the adventure
  • Rumor Table

Episode 18: The Replacements

dcc_rpg_cover_smallThe Replacements’ is the eighteenth episode of a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG actual play podcast. Additional information can be found at http://irontavern.com/podcast.

Session Synopsis

The green group of adventurers begins their exploration of Castle Whiterock at the behest of the seasoned party. Talking their way in, they do their best to poke around the ruins of the castle while under the watchful eye of the order of monks. Put to work helping excavate ruins within the remains of the castle reveals things are not the way seem!

Meta Note: The players decided to use some lower level characters to explore Castle Whiterock under the direction of the higher level characters. 

Download Link: http://irontavern.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Episode-18.mp3

Credits

Intro and outro music is ‘Wrecking Ball’ from 137 from http://music.mevio.com.