Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (5E)

Today was the early release date for the new Monster Manual for the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, available at Wizards Play Network stores. I picked one up, because I don't mind paying full price for an early copy ($49.95 MSRP, $29.97 at Amazon, available in a couple of weeks).

Physically, it's a nice looking book, 352 pages (compare with 316 pages for the Player's Handbook). It's got the same glossy cover and half-glossy back (which is a little annoying because every time I pick it up I have to check to make sure I haven't grabbed a piece of paper beneath it by accident). It has a couple of obligatory "what is a monster" and "how to use this book" pages to explain the various monster entries, and then off we go with the aarakocra. There is ample artwork throughout (no boobs, even on the succubus and marilith), and I suppose it makes up for the lack of a text description of each creature.

Intellect Devourer
Most of the monsters I would expect to see in such a book are present. We have beholders, goblins, giants, devils, demons, and of course dragons. Some entries are new (to me, at least); half-dragons, flameskulls, helmed horrors, and chuuls, for instance. Some I feel are missing that should have been included in a starting book of monsters; dryads, for instance, and most of the "faerie" type creatures. Plus derro. I love derro. While they do have some of the "made for the game" monsters like rust monsters, ear seekers, bookworms, and mimics, others such as the trapper are missing. I know such creatures aren't popular with today's crop of players, but as an old schooler I feel their absence.

Some oldies-but-goodies have been renamed. Ogre magi are now oni, which I suppose makes sense, but the rename seems somewhat arbitrary, although it does keep them right after "ogre" alphabetically. Merrow, on the other hand, have been completely changed from aquatic ogres to a corrupted form of merman. Fine. Daemons from 1st edition remain Yuggoloths, but they will always be Daemons in my game. Interestingly, although there is mention of demon lords and archdevils, there is no mention of the daemon lords or the Oinodaemon, just someone called The General. Anthraxus will, needless to say, exist in my game.

Umber Hulk
Some creatures have had minor tweaks. Piercers are now larval forms of ropers, but at least those lovely "hidden death from above" beasties can still plague my large cavern spaces. Succubi/incubi are now no longer classified as demons, but are common to all the lower planes. I'm not sure how I like that; there was a certain symmetry in the succubus/erinyes dichotomy, but time will tell if I just end up ignoring it and calling them demons.

There's lots of background text, which is both a boon and a bane. It certainly will help DMs who need some help integrating a creature into a game, but in some cases it becomes intrusive, such as the entry for shadow dragons, which is replete with references to "the Shadowfell" whatever that is. Perhaps it's something that will get explained when the Dungeon Master's Guide comes out. They'll be native to the Plane of Shadow in my campaign, where the Material casts its shadow from the light of the Positive.

I know a lot of people are bemoaning the lack of a table showing each monster by it's challenge level, as they feel it would be very helpful for writing encounters. Apparently that (as well as encounters by terrain type) is coming in the DMG, just like it was in 1st edition.

Gynosphinx
One oddity; there is a section at the back for "miscellaneous creatures." These are much shorter than the full-page-at-least entries for the other creatures, and include both ordinary things like brown bears and mastiffs, as well as more esoteric creatures as blink dogs and giant fire beetles. They're organized alphabetically, but whenever there's a "giant" creature, they're in the G's, which I find confusing. I think, though, that the reason these miscellaneous creatures got stuck in the back is that it would have wreaked havoc with the pagination and layout of the creatures in the main part of the book.

Bottom line, this is a great monster book, and I think it's worth the money. You could use a lot of the background text for any game, and the selection of creatures, while not perfect (in my completely subjective opinion), is certainly defensible for a "baseline" monster book that doesn't strive to be completely comprehensive (although there is certainly room for such a thing, ahem).

This is certainly a worthy addition to the Player's Handbook, and 5th edition is certainly shaping up to be something I'll really enjoy playing and running. Next stop, the Dungeon Master's Guide!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pig Faced Orcs!

I got yet another piece to the miniatures puzzle in the mail today. Pig faced orcs from Britain!

No, these are new casts from the old Minifigs fantasy line, now kept in production by Miniature Figurines in Britain. These are the self-same figures that were part of the old World of Greyhawk Miniatures line (WOG68), way back in the early 80's. Now, it seems that Miniature Figurines doesn't have the entire line back in production (they don't have pictures of everything in the line on their website), but they certainly have enough of them to make a decent showing, and if they get more in, I'll be buying. (If you're reading this, I want orcs with swords!)

There is a bit of flash on the figures, and the shields will need to be glued on, but other than that the casts are very clean and the details are quite good. Much better than I remember some of the old Minifigs casts being, actually.

Why did I go with Miniatures Figurines and not another purveyor of pig faced orcs? Price and scale. Here's how the four companies compare:

Company
Price
Scale
Miniature Figurines
$3.17
25mm
Otherworld Miniatures
$5.97
28mm
Wargames Foundry
$4.92
28mm
Fractured Dimension
$4.00
28mm
The price is per figure, converted into US dollars at today's exchange rate. I know that Otherworld Miniatures is sold through Noble Knight, but they don't have the regular packages in stock, so I couldn't use them for a price comparison. I used only the regular sets (where they had sets), so no command packs or mounted figures; those are usually higher.

The thing on the right is actually the shield.
The scale is also pretty important to me. I'm using a ton of classic Grenadier and Ral Partha figures as the backbone of my collection, so I want true 25mm if I can get them. I know a lot of people have a bazillion 28mm figures (that's the scale that a lot of modern places like GW and Reaper use), but I find the 28's just don't look right next to the 25's. And there's also "scale creep" on the 28's, as I noticed yesterday with the new Wizkids' prepainted D&D figures.

It's a minor thing, but I'm also not a fan of "slotta" bases. I like flat metal bases. The Otherworld and Fractured Dimensions figures come with slottas. Not a decisive factor, but it's still there.

So there it is; based both on price and their being the same scale as my other figures, it was pretty much a no-brainer. The fact that they have the nostalgia factor going for them is just a bonus, and the figures themselves are certainly as good as any of their competitors, at least based on the photographs I've seen. Some day I might order some from the other three companies and do a face-to-face comparison, but for now I've got a lot of painting to do.

Speaking of which, I just had to share this guy's quick video about Otherworld's pig faced orcs. He sounds so enthusiastic about them!


Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: D&D Miniatures by Wizkids

Although I passed on the Icons of the Realms miniatures starter set that came out earlier this summer in conjunction with the big Hoard of the Dragon Queen release, I finally found a FLGS that actually had some of the boosters, and decided to check them out to see how they look. I got two boxes (each box contains one large creature and three small/medium sized creatures), which my FLGS was selling for $15.99 each (only slightly more than you'll find on Amazon), meaning they clock in at around $4 per figure. That is a bit much for my taste.

These are "blind boosters" meaning that you don't know what you're going to get until you open it up (which will presumably not be until you buy it). I find this a huge strike against them right off the bat. As a DM, I will be looking for specific figures, and want to have large numbers of certain types of figures like orcs and skeletons. There are 44 different figures in the series, and we have been told that the dragons (and a few of the other figures) in the Dragon Wing Attack game will be repurposed from the D&D miniatures line, but given different bases for the game.

The first box contained a black shadow dragon, an invisible sun elf wizard, a guard drake, and a hobgoblin warrior. The second box contained a frost giant, a kobold fighter, a human red wizard, and a quickling. At least I think that's what they are - the writing on the bottoms of all of the figures except the large ones is nearly impossible to read, and I literally have a magnifying glass helping me.

Small bases are 3/4" in diameter, medium bases are 1", and large bases are 2". The bases themselves are plain black disks with no raised lip or any decoration. Regardless of size, all are 1/8" thick.

The sculpts are very well-executed and have a lot of good detail that the paint jobs pick up well.

The paint jobs on the figures are nice, except for the invisible elf and the shadow dragon, which are unpainted. This is because the invisible elf is cast completely in clear plastic (to show she's invisible), and the shadow dragon is cast in a smoky semi-transparent gray that gives a very nice effect. The human red wizard also has some semi-translucent plastic around the hands to simulate some spell effect, and it works. The human wizard is a full 30mm to the eyes (not counting the base), which makes these even a tad larger in scale than the "heroic" 28mm that has come to replace true 25mm over the years.

Wizkids' 30mm scale frost giant (l) from 2014,
and Grenadier's 25mm scale frost giant (r), circa 1980
Even at that scale, the frost giant seems a bit too large. In scale he's something like 18' tall, which is 20% taller than the 15' tall they were in previous editions (I don't have the 5E Monster Manual yet, so I don't know if they're taller in the game or the figure is just outsized). EDIT: Now that I have the Monster Manual, it says frost giants are 21' tell. Wowzers!

The small figures, the kobold and the quickling, seem somewhat frail, like their legs are going to break at any moment. They're made of the same semi-flexible plastic as many other prepainted figures (and the kobold's pole-arm is bent), so I'm guessing they'll endure just fine, but they give the impression of frailty.

One other thing - I think the fact that the shadow dragon is flying is going to lessen its utility at the table. I understand that they want to repurpose the figures for D&D Attack Wing, but when I've run dragon encounters in the past, they're rarely flying (at least not constantly). Too, I don't think I will ever end up using the invisible elf, because it's just too specific a figure. I might use it as a generic "invisible character" marker, but that somehow feels like I'm defeating the purpose of the figure. And if I get more of them in some other box, I'm going to be a little ticked off that I'm wasting money on figures I won't use.

On the whole, I'm not too impressed with the line and probably won't be buying any more of the boosters. If they come out with some sort of themed sets later, I might go in on a box depending on what's inside, but I don't find blind fishing worth $4 per figure (close to twice that if you pay the actual MSRP). Too, the ever-increasing scale makes them harder and harder to use with my older 25mm figures (which are also "thicker" and give more of an impression of substantiality).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Looking forward to the D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual

Next Friday the second core rulebook for D&D 5th Edition, the Monster Manual, will land at Wizards Play Network stores next Friday, September 19th, and at all retailers (and Amazon) on the 30th. I was very impressed with the Player's Handbook, and I just wanted to give a quick recap of what we've been told so far about the Monster Manual.

First and foremost, we have the table of contents, and thus a complete list of the monsters contained within (although there are doubtless variations and sub-types that are also included).

We've also been given various sneak previews of specific monsters on the Wizards site. We've seen things like the Intellect Devourer, Umber Hulk, and Sphinxes, which gives us a good idea of the layout and level of detail we can expect to see.

We're also starting to get full reviews of the book (from the lucky bastards who have gotten advanced copies - no, I'm not bitter at all, I promise). Critical-Hits.com came out with a very good review today, Dread Gazebo has a brief overview (and will be doing a live page-by-page look-through next Monday), and The Walking Mind has been giving paragraph-long mini-reviews of each monster, as well as a nice recap of the book as a whole. I am sure there will be others coming out in the next week or so.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Greyhawk is a mess

The Marklands, 20 miles per hex
In the process of getting ready for my 5E Greyhawk sandbox campaign (in two weeks - yikes!), I started where I always start. Maps. So in the process of trying to put together a map of the Gnarley Forest and the surrounding environs, I went to the sources and started to put them all together.

And I discovered that the official cartography of the central Flanaess is a complete and utter mess.

The region is well-covered. There's the original Darlene map, of course, but there's also the region map from the City of Greyhawk boxed set, the campaign map from From the Ashes, the wilderness maps from Temple of Elemental Evil and Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, one of the maps from The Marklands, the map from Rary the Traitor, and the Domains of Greyhawk map from the Player's Guide.

From the Ashes, 6 miles per hex
Now, naturally, they don't have a consistent scale. That would be too easy. Some have hexes, some do not. And the fact that they span some 15 years of in-game time doesn't help, but it's hardly insurmountable; the number of major geographic features that change during that time is manageable; mostly forts and castles that are built.

But what's incredibly frustrating are the details. Many of the maps don't line up, even when they're blown up to a consistent scale. Coastlines are inconsistent, rivers are off their courses by many miles, and forests ebb and flow like the tide.

Villages move from place to place; one notable example is the village of Walthain in Furyondy. In the FtA Campaign map, it's about 50 miles away from the village of Dianrift, and a road heads inland from Sendrift (another 40 miles along the coast) into the interior of Furyondy. But in the Marklands map, the two villages are suddenly 20 miles closer to one another, and the road now heads inland from Walthain, which is ten miles further away from Sendrift than it was before! Plus, the coast of the Nyr Dyv doesn't line up between the two maps at all; in one it has a much more pronounced northward swoop than in the other, where it's relatively flat.

Rary the Traitor, no lake
Perhaps the most annoying/hilarious is the case of the disappearing lake in the Abbor-Alz. In the FtA map, there's a lake near a camp named Marstefel, which the accompanying campaign book tells us is a semi-permanent camp inhabited by tribesmen. But in Rary the Traitor, both the lake and the tribesman camp are gone, replaced by a castle called Griffon's Nest, inhabited by the self-styled Bandit King of the Abbor-Alz! The castle is apparently quite old, having been abandoned by dwarves in years past. And the two products supposedly both take place in the same time-frame, CY585.

From the Ashes, behold a lake!
So it's taking some creative tinkering to get everything to fit together. In the process it's almost impossible to avoid contradicting some previously published material, since it seems to contradict itself! Still, I muddle through, but it is a mess.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

It is coming...

Soon. Soon I can let the world know. 

But not now. Not yet.

Soon.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hasbro brings D&D brand to Shapeways via SuperFanArt

The site originally launched just for
"My Little Pony", now includes
Dungeons & Dragons
This caught my eye this morning:
As you may have heard, Hasbro and Shapeways are working together to encourage artists to create and sell 3D designs based on Hasbro brands. Our July launch of SuperFanArt.com featured five artists and their My Little Pony-based designs. The event generated substantial press for the artists and goodwill toward Hasbro and Shapeways for opening up major entertainment brands to fans. Given this early success, we want to expand this opportunity to include more artists, more Hasbro brands and more 3D printed awesomeness.
Starting now, you too can become part of SuperFanArt to promote and sell your designs to other fans. Submit your designs for the following brands:
My Little Pony, Transformers, Dungeons & Dragons, Monopoly, Scrabble (to be sold in US and Canada only), Dragonvale, GI Joe
So if I'm reading this correctly, it is now okay for D&D fans to legally sell D&D miniatures (and jewelry, dice, game tokens, or just about anything that can be 3D printed, short of a replacement pelvis) on ShapeWays via the SuperFanArt.com site. The specific design has to be approved, of course ("no ponies with guns"), but the mechanism is there to sell your own D&D products through an officially-sanctioned website.

Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

No, cosplaying a drow isn't racist

Is that drow on the right dual-wielding banjos?
So last weekend R.A. Salvatore had his photo taken with some folks cosplaying drow, and it was posted to the official D&D Twitter feed. Naturally, some people went apeshit, because, well, racism.

The line from the Outrage Brigade was that these folks who were dressed up like subterranean elves were actually in "blackface", and thus their choice of costume was demeaning to black people, with some explicitly calling the picture racist:
And it should be pointed out that this is not a new phenomenon. People have been complaining that cosplaying drow = racist for years. Not that it makes it any more valid as a position, but it's not new.

This is blackface; it
deliberately demeans blacks
But I have to say that cosplaying a drow is not "blackface" despite the superficial similarities. "Blackface" is more than just the color of the makeup; there's a whole set of behaviors that are specifically designed to outrageously parody black behavior and speech that really form the core of what makes "blackface" offensive (and rightly so).

The only thing cosplaying a drow has in common with actual blackface is the color of the makeup used. Even the application of the makeup is different; I've never seen anyone cosplaying a drow with exaggerated red lips, for example, or with exaggerated nappy black hair. There are no picaninny dark elf children stuffing giant mushrooms into their mouths, nor are half-drow referred to as mulattos. It is not remotely the same thing, on an objective, aesthetic, level.

This is not blackface; it makes
evil subterranean elves look cool
It is simply not the point of the type of cosplaying at issue, and despite the superficial color of the makeup, there is nothing to link cosplaying with racism, blackface, or minstrel shows. Without the critical addition of the performance, deliberately intended to let the audience know that it is black culture that is being parodied (and demeaned in the process), to assume otherwise is simply to be looking for an excuse to be offended.

Now, it's one thing to say that something doesn't meet the objective definition of blackface (and/or racism). It is also the case that many folks could have a subjective impression that anyone putting on black makeup, for whatever reason, is inherently and irredeemably racist, simply because of the superficial resemblance to historical blackface. Indeed, Dace at the Black Roleplayers Association blog seems to make this very point:
So how do we get such different ideas on what cosplaying Drow means. Most of it comes down to the lived experience for people of color (black people in particular). As last Halloween showed ,when Julianne Houghe darkened her skin to look like her favorite character Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black, black people take the idea of black face very seriously. Even when it's not done to insult black people we still feel slighted. This has to do with racial scares [sic] that have never quite healed. I know on an intellectual level that a lot of time has passed between when black face was done as a way to degenerate [sic] an entire people and now.
So, the question becomes, how to react when someone self-admittedly reacts negatively (and strongly so) to something that is:

  • Not actually the thing that denigrated black people
  • Wasn't done with the intention of denigrating black people

To his credit, Dace addresses both of my points in his post:
But in application what you're doing is black face. The idea of black face isn't static. While yes it originally was meant to be white actors doing minstrel shows [sic - black performers donned blackface too, as it was the convention of the performance at the time] the concept of what black face is has grown. That's just how culture works. ... It is no longer limited to minstrel shows and is pretty much taken to mean anytime someone dresses in black skin. We will never be cool with black face.
"What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?"
That is precisely the point, though. It is not "pretty much taken to mean anytime someone dresses in black skin." It may be taken that way by Dace and those who agree with him, but the mere fact that there are people out there who don't agree with him means it is not "pretty much taken". It's his personal, subjective, opinion, and his personal, subjective, reaction. (And those of the people who agree with him.) What he is (and they are) really saying here is, "Anyone who disagrees with me needs to change how they think on this issue, because I'm right." Except his is a subjective opinion and not an objective fact; more about that essential distinction below.

As for my second point:
I knew Ms. Houghe intent was not to do harm but to honor a character she cherished from an excellent show. That's why I never thought she was racist. However I did feel her choice was in bad taste.
But "bad taste" is a far cry from "racist", and taste is by its very nature a subjective thing. Everyone, every day, does dozens of things that someone else could find in bad taste. Driving a car with a Darwin Fish on it, for instance, is incredibly insulting to tens of millions of Christians in this country. Does that mean that they should be banned, or that people who have them on their cars (as I do) should somehow be publicly shamed, or individually confronted in mall parking lots? Of course not.

Do the collective historic experiences of black people in the United States somehow give them an elevated status in regards to their subjective opinions (even - especially when those opinions are at variance with the reality of what blackface is, and that someone who is demonstrably not racist can still want to dress up like a cool evil subterranean elf)? Does the fact that a century and a half ago their great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was a slave mean I need to defer to their subjective, ahistorical opinions in my choice of fantasy costume, even though my ancestors (as far as I know) never owned slaves and in fact fought on the side of the Union in the Civil War?

I do not believe it does.

Not a drow. This is more like an
Andorian without the antennae.
There are some folks out there who do try to split the baby. Cosplaying drow is okay, as long as one does it with gray (or purple???), rather than black, makeup. But that is simply pandering to those who think that their subjective opinions -- that anyone wearing black makeup, for any reason, is in blackface and therefore racist. Bear in mind that the drow were invented by Gary Gygax years before cosplaying became a thing, and certainly before Drizzt made drow "cool". And their description?
Drow are black-skinned and pale-haired. They are slight of build and have long, delicate, fingers and toes.
Not gray, not purple. Black.

Ultimately, though, this whole thing is such a product of our hypersensitive culture. Everyone is looking for something to be outraged about, such that true outrages get lost in the static. When blacks have such disproportionately high rates of incarceration, single-parent families, high school dropouts, and unemployment, it is ludicrous to claim that people dressing up like cool evil subterranean elves are in any way, no matter how minor, contributing to the woes of the black community.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Well, I've certainly been quiet lately

If you've noticed a certain slack in my frequency of posting lately, it's not your imagination. I've got a couple of Really Big Somethings brewing, but I can't take the lid off the pot just yet. Give it a month or two. But in the meantime I'll try to find some game-related ephemera to fill up the lonely gaps.

But man oh man is it going to be awesome.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Game Magazines

By way of explanation of the title of this post, I don't mean "magazines about games". I mean "magazines that come with games", which is a unique subset of the game magazine industry that I thought had reached its zenith in the 1970's and early 80's, but is alive and well and quite vibrant today.

Basically, these were (and are) magazines that not only contain a number of articles about a given topic, and other articles, but an entire ready-to-play game as well. Counters, maps, rules; the whole shebang.

Take, for example, Ares Magazine. This was originally an SPI publication (spun off as a dedicated fantasy/science fiction magazine from their other offerings; Strategy & Tactics and Moves), acquired by TSR, continued as an insert in Dragon for a while, and finally laid to rest. It has recently been resurrected by One Small Step Games, after a successful Kickstarter. You can find pdfs of the original online via the Internet Archive.

I used to be a regular subscriber to the original (alas, all gone now, of course), and was thrilled when I saw it was being revived. I received the first copy of the new magazine a couple of weeks ago, and while I haven't played the included game yet (it's a War of the Worlds game, based on a Martian invasion of London), it certainly looks good and the rules seem clear. The magazine itself contains a bunch of articles on science, as well as a number of pieces of fiction, making it almost like Omni in its feel. If Omni had had a game inside. The one thing I found lacking was the absence of articles about the subject of the game; I would have expected at least some background about H.G. Wells, the War of the Worlds novel, etc. But it's hardly a deal breaker.

There is also Modern War Magazine, whose latest issue I bought today at Maplewood Hobby (the most wide-ranging game store this side of The Compleat Strategist). Published by Strategy and Tactics Press, a division of Victory Games, it (quite obviously) focuses on modern warfare. In the case of the particular issue I got, it had the game "Dragon and Bear", which simulates a conflict between China and Russia in the 21st century, and which is an update of the old SPI game China War.

The magazine comes with encyclopedic treatments of modern Russian and Chinese military equipment, organization, and doctrine, as well as abundant articles on a variety of different issues around the theme of modern warfare. Military junkies will find it a trove of hard information, and the fact that they have articles that support the theme of the game in the issue really helps, in my opinion.

The same company also publishes Strategy and Tactics, which is the descendant of the original SPI publication, and also includes a game in every issue, and themed articles as well as stand-alone articles. S&T is the most general of their offerings, with games and information covering just about every genre imaginable. They also publish World at War, which focuses on World War II.

The magazines with games cost about $30 each, which is actually quite reasonable when you consider you're getting a whole magazine (which alone cost $15, as these are large, glossy, full color magazines stuffed to the gills with content) as well as the game. One of the new (since the 1980's, anyway) innovations is the ability to get issues and subscriptions of the magazines sans the games. This certainly makes them more affordable, but it does make them somewhat less interesting, at least to me.

I'd heartily encourage you to seek out these magazines and give them and their games a try. If you're not ready to take the (admittedly quite hefty) plunge for a subscription, keep an eye on the websites and look for a game that piques your particular interest. It's a legacy that goes back to the heyday of the wargaming hobby, and they're keeping the banner (and quality) flying pretty high.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I've been playing D&D wrong all these years...

The folks at Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, who have turned the infamous Jack Chick tract "Dark Dungeons" into a movie, have put the first seven minutes up on YouTube:



The rest of the film is available for $5 on their website. Judging by the first free part, it's going to be well worth it. The actors play it straight, but it's all the more hilarious for all of that. Just seeing how that sliver of the country viewed (views?) RPGs -- immensely popular, seductive, and of course the route to the under-cellar of Hell -- is both funny and frightening.


(h/t to io9.com)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

5th Edition Player's Handbook: First Impressions

Now that I've had a weekend to read through and digest the new Player's Handbook for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, I wanted to share some impressions with you.



But seriously, folks...

I'm very impressed with the book itself as well as the rules. The book has some nice artwork, but it seems to steer clear of the "massive spiky armor and 2' wide swords" aesthetic that plagued previous editions. If I had one stand-out complaint about the art, it would be the depiction of halflings. Not only are they shown with shoes (a pet peeve of mine), but their legs are uniformly spindly, making them look like walnuts propped up on toothpicks. The pages have a faux-parchment look that I suppose is unavoidable these days, but it doesn't interfere with reading the text, as there isn't any actual design that shows through behind the text, which was a problem with certain other books in the past.

The rules expand on the previously-released Basic Rules and the boxed Starter Set. We now have a full line-up of character races and classes, with suitable backgrounds, options for customization for each class (bard colleges, barbarian paths, etc.), and the like. I don't personally understand the need for wizards (get spells by studying), sorcerers (get spells through raw/wild magic), and warlocks (get spells through pacts with powerful beings), but I know I'm in a minority in that and have reconciled myself to the fact that not everyone is a Grognard. I won't probably ever play a sorcerer, but I can see how folks might like it (it's very DCC in feel, with a big random table for "wild magic surges" that happen when you roll a 1 when casting a spell).

I am particularly fond of the sprinkling of references to the various published D&D campaign worlds throughout the text. Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and Eberron even have deity lists in an appendix, but there are references to Dark Sun, Blackmoor, Planescape, Mystara, Birthright, and probably others that I missed. The Wheel of the Planes is also back, which I like. 

Speaking of appendices, there's an Appendix E that gives an extensive "inspirational reading" list. There are some works in there you'd expect to see, like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, ERB's Pellucidar series, and Conan, but some more modern works like The Book of the New Sun and A Song of Ice and Fire. (In a particularly recursive move, Andre Norton's Quag Keep is listed, which is weird because it was itself based on the D&D game...). 

All in all, a very impressive work, and my cautious optimism about 5th Edition seems to have been justified. I'll delve more deeply into the rules themselves in some follow-up posts, and there will be some more Greyhawk-specific material as the months wear on, but I can say that WotC seems to have struck the right tone and content for me with this one. Well done.

Friday, August 8, 2014

How do you read rulebooks?

Now that the 5th Edition Player's Handbook is here (it still feels weird to put that apostrophe in there), at least at those FLGS's who are members of the Wizards Play Network, I wanted to ask a general question. How do you read new rulebooks when you get them?

Do you read them cover-to-cover? Just skim through it and then read the rest in bits and pieces as needed as you play? Something else? Do you mark certain sections as important, or to follow-up later? Do you make margin notes?

Feel free to sound off in the comments. And look for my initial review of the new Player's Handbook later this weekend, once I've had a chance to absorb it.