Musing on the implications of the D&D 5e SRD

Little Dorrit, Musing and dreaming, by PhizThe main reason I stopped playing D&D Fifth Edition was that it read too much like a set of software requirements (use cases). 5e writes everything out in expansive detail, rather than in a concise “Strunk & White-esque” manner.

This drove me back to simpler rule sets like Swords & Wizardry and even Microlite20 or Searchers of the Unknown. For some purposes (e.g. playing with my kids), those still make the most sense. I need the ability to riff on what my players do as quickly as they  do it. Otherwise, their interest starts to wane and they want to go watch anime or play Minecraft or something.

But the release of the Systems Reference Document and Open Gaming License for 5e might change things a little. +Stan Shinn already has a project titled Dungeonesque: Red Box RPG that will provide a streamlined version of the 5e rules based on the SRD. I expect a number of similar projects to come out soon as well. While the so-called “O5R” movement may not have gathered much steam, this sort of approach might do enough to make it worthwhile for me. In fact, incorporating the best parts of other games (e.g. the encumbrance rules from Lamentations of the Flame Princess and the domain level play from Adventurer Conqueror King System) just became a lot more viable.

Related to this, I have trouble playing via Roll20 in part because data entry for the monsters takes so much time. (Voice chat has become less workable for me due to my home environment as well.) I expect we’ll see the monsters from the SRD available on Roll20 soon based on comments from the developers there, however.  They can’t afford to miss the opportunity to streamline play for the most popular game on their platform.

I’d like to come back to 5e for something other than dungeon crawling. Perhaps a game of urban intrigue and espionage using text chat on Roll20 would work better, as it involves a lot less crunch and a lot more roleplaying. (The reason for sticking with 5e comes down to the interest level from players.) I also like designing monsters and such using the 5e crunch, ironically enough, so I might stat up a few things from my Roll For Initiative collection and put them out on the Dungeon Master’s Guild for people to use.

Certainly this started me thinking about 5e again in a way I haven’t in quite a while. Good job, WotC.

Review: “A Practical Guide to Monsters”

A Practical Guide to MonstersI recently got a copy of A Practical Guide to Monsters. An in-universe reference volume for apprentice wizards, it lists 53 different monsters by my count. Each of them has a bit of fiction, a fact box (e.g. height, weight, habitat, diet, attack methods, etc.), and an artistic representation. If you think this sounds like a Monster Manual, then you’ve got the idea, but the book includes no game statistics. In effect, you can think of the guide as a monster manual for kids. Some of the monsters even have associated maps and marginalia.

The illustrations bring out the ideas behind each monster without scaring small children. A few of them include a child-like goblin running away or otherwise engaged in some activity. This gives kids a way to imagine themselves interacting with the monster but in a reasonably survivable way. Several intermediate sections list weapons, armor, and equipment that an adventurer might need. My kids and I have had a nice time looking through it and talking about what it might feel like to run into some of the monsters.

A sleeping goblin adventurer

I don’t want to give the idea that the guide only works as a children’s book. The free Dungeon Master’s Basic Guide lists statistics for a little under half of the listed monsters, and the Monster Manual for 5e includes almost 90% of them. Exceptions include the Yrthak, Ormyrr, and Athach, among others. The Microlite20 expanded monster list includes about the same number. A GM could easily convert the exceptions from other editions.

So in addition to the coffee table aspect, this book works well as a way to illustrate monsters to players. A game with children or using a retroclone would particularly benefit. Wizards of the Coast first published the book in 2007, so lots of stores carry inexpensive copies. They published a whole series of Practical Guides (“wizards”, “dragons”, etc.) and I look forward to getting a few more for my home library.

No more Dungeonscape

Closed TrapdoorAt least, not as originally planned. Trapdoor carefully worded its announcement with passive language, just saying that the two companies “will no longer be working together to develop DungeonScape for Fifth Edition D&D, and we will not be releasing the product in its current form.” But Wizards of the Coast wrote a little more actively, taking the responsibility for ending the relationship.

Of course I feel bad for the staff at Trapdoor. A small startup with no cash flow losing their only major client will inevitably have to let some people go. That has happened to me several times in my life. It disrupts everything and, in some situations, can cause major trauma to a person or a family. My heart goes out to anyone who’s affected by this.

As a participant in the web beta, I only ever saw the character generator. It worked decently (modulo one or two relatively straightforward bugs) as long as you were following the Player’s Handbook directly. They didn’t yet have full support for customization like player-developed backgrounds, which the PHB explicitly allows on page 125. But Dungeonscape’s chief selling point didn’t really have much to do with character generation anyway. They have talked about some tech called The Story Machine to parse sourcebooks directly without manually entering all the data and statblocks, which certainly seems feasible. Possibly the as-yet-unreleased “public license” from WotC, telling players what we can and cannot do with our home-developed material, somehow interfered with this.

So I speculate that the problem has to do with the revenue and pricing model. Trapdoor has always carefully avoided any public discussion about it, and I always had the impression that was because WotC had not agreed with them on things. With the end of October upon us, it seems that they’d reached some sort of impasse.

Here’s hoping that Trapdoor can take their core Story Machine technology and do something cool with it. And here’s hoping WotC’s public license comes out soon and doesn’t completely kill the momentum for digital tools they’ve already interrupted.