First big news: I have another guest post up on Critical Hits today. This one is on skill challenges in 5th edition D&D. I crunched a lot of numbers to make sure the probabilities worked out for you, then I had to temper those numbers with the details of D&D - class abilities and spells that can give PCs huge advantages in exploration and interaction scenes. Take a look at the earlier 5e skill work I did here.
Second, I've been making a lot of infographics based around concepts on the blog. I'm enjoying it, and they get more shares and clicks than detailed blog posts. Obviously we need a mix of quick and easy graphics and deep dives in blog articles, so I'm going to keep doing both! Here's another infographic for today! I plan to do one based around the 5e skill challenges piece, too, if I can figure out how.
This one is on the three act structure - a sort of "reminder" or cheat sheet. If you recall, I did a big piece on the three act structure and the hero's journey a few years ago. I'm not loving the bullet points, but it looked better with them than without. Any real designers have tips on how to incorporate lists into graphics?
Last of all, I read a neat piece over on Sly Flourish quoting Mike Mearls' "we designed for the table, then we designed for theory, now we're designing for the table again" commentary and discussing the actual play podcasts and video series' and their potential impact on the hobby. I had two thoughts on that.
First, RPG actual play isn't always how people actually play. I think the videos and podcasts of "actual play" RPG sessions out there are a varying mix of reality and kayfabe. Some, like the One Shots podcast, aim to show off how the system actually runs. They're like a cooking show or a product demo. It's like if Rachel Ray GMed an Edge of the Empire game to show you how it's done. Others, like the Force Grey series are closer to pro wrestling than the Food Network - they're set up for awesome improv between professional (or at least part-time) comedians -- not to actually portray how your Friday night D&D session actually works. Force Grey is even edited. Sure, they use the system, but they could be using any RPG system to the same ends, riffing off good and bad die roll results. You can see a continuum in Chris Perkins alone: The PAX live Acquisitions Incorporated shows are more theater than D&D (more Ray Mysterio than Rachel Ray); but the AI series is more D&D than theater. They do away with the elaborate sets and models, and Chris Perkis is running a game a lot closer to how most GMs actually run D&D than his PAX Live performance. There's definitely a place for each. In my limited time, I appreciate the edited, entertainment-dense Force Grey shows, even though I'm aware that this is not how my D&D sessions will ever work, and in many ways I don't want them to work that way. (Example: If you've been reading Run a Game for a while, you probably know why I don't like the trap scene in Episode 5 of Force Grey!)
Second, designing for the table is a laudable aim. But moving away from theory is not. It's one thing to say "we neglected the table, so we're bringing that aspect back into the design" and another entirely to say "we neglected the table with our focus on theory, so we stopped designing from a strong theoretical base." That's a common complaint about 5e - a lot of it feels thrown together and then playtested to shave the rough edges off. Not that it's a bad edition of D&D, mind you! I love it, but its "table first" design shows. Table First makes fun (though poorly balanced) PC classes but terrible Monster Manuals. A better philosophy would be to say "In the 80s and 90s we were great at designing for actual play, but we didn't have a strong theoretical base. With 3e and 4e we developed a strong theoretical base, but we neglected to design for actual play. Now we're aiming to build a strong theoretical base, and then shape it for actual play." Doesn't that make more sense?