Chad Perrin: SOB

7 April 2009

Worse Than Bush

Filed under: Liberty — apotheon @ 10:06

When will "we" (by which I mean most of you) learn? Voting for the "lesser evil" is nothing more than an excuse to vote for evil.

  1. HR 45 is the citizen disarmament bill to end all citizen disarmament bills. Luckily, it won't pass as written. Unluckily, it'll pass as a "compromise bill" — the most insidious kind of evil, because we'll all be feeling like we dodged a bullet, relieved that the bill didn't pass in its original form, while broad, sweeping infringements on the right to keep and bear arms are being signed into law. Molon labe, fuckers.

  2. The Obama Administration's DOJ is worse than the Bush Administration's DOJ was. The fog of President Barack Obama's breath, on the teleprompters from which he read his carefully crafted promises of transparent government, has barely evaporated, and here his DOJ is asserting legal immunities and privileges of secrecy that are bold and unconscionable even by the standards of the Bush Administration's power-mad gremlins. It's so bad the ACLU is rattling its saber at a Democrat President. Is there a substantive promise left that Obama hasn't broken?

How many of you feel stupid for having voted for this ass-weasel now? His highest ranking DOJ officials are RIAA and Monsanto lackeys for crying out loud.

Get involved in local politics. If your state is one of the dozen (give or take) that is asserting (or considering asserting) some kind of state sovereignty privilege, support it. Make sure the people in your city, county, district, and state who hold political power know your displeasure with the violations of privacy, property, and other rights (starting with the Bill of 'em in the US Constitution), and that you will hold them accountable next election — or even earlier, if there's any chance of a recall — should they fail to support and uphold those rights.

At the local level you can make a difference. At the national level, you can let them know that their days are numbered, because once the local level has been conquered, you can scale up to the next level. Or, y'know, sit around on your ass, wallowing in your apathy and complacency and feelings of impotence, and next time there's an election you can ignore everything except the Presidential race just like you always do, and you can vote for the "lesser evil" just like you always do, and you can get someone worse than the last guy just like you always do — just like we did this time — because you believed the blatantly transparent lies he shoveled.

Just like you always do.

There might be half a dozen people who read this that voted for someone other than the evil behind Door Number One and the evil behind Door Number Two. The rest of you are due for a wake-up call. Seriously — how could you have trusted a Chicago politician?

high level campaigns: keeping it challenging

Filed under: Geek,RPG — Tags: , , — apotheon @ 10:24

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

In running high level ROLEplaying games, I said:

Keeping high level roleplaying campaigns challenging isn't the same as keeping high level dungeon crawl campaigns challenging. "Challenge" doesn't always have to mean "combat" — and even when it does, the challenge doesn't have to be all the way, all the time. Mix up the types of challenges PCs face, and mix up how difficult they are, so that variety keeps the players on their toes and ensures they stay engaged.

There's a lot more that can be said on that subject, though. That's why I decided to write this SOB entry — to address the subject of keeping high level roleplaying oriented campaigns challenging. Things aren't quite as sraightforward as in a dungeoncrawl campaign, where the game is primarily focused on four major combat encounters per in-game day and "challenge" is measured in hit points and special combat abilities. Because they aren't as straightforward, campaigns that are more roleplaying oriented may not be as easy to handle.

On the other hand, I think they can be more fun. Sometimes, there's a price in extra effort to be paid for a roleplaying experience with more depth, that gets you more involved in the story — in a story that might make you proud. If the extra work wasn't worth it sometimes, you wouldn't be GMing in the first place (unless you're just power mad, and like to screw with players' minds, but we'll just assume that's not the case).

Paizo Otyugh So . . . let's examine the subject of keeping a high level roleplaying oriented campaign challenging:

The challenge of a high level campaign need not be strictly combat oriented. In fact, my preference is to make some combat challenging but, at higher levels, some of it ridiculously easy. Cutting down a little cannon fodder from time to time helps to support the suspension of disbelief really important to any kind of immersion in a roleplaying oriented campaign. Why would characters who have grown so far in power only end up meeting, and fighting, enemies who are similarly powerful? What happened to all the teeming masses of weaklings the PCs used to run into when they were lower level (and found those teeming masses of weaklings a lot more challenging)?

Surely they haven't wiped out the entire kobold race! Surely the kobolds aren't possessed of secret level-divining magics that impart to them the knowledge that the fourteenth level party walking through their patch of woods is out of their league, when the same party was within striking range of their own power level a few short in-game months ago! Why, then, aren't kobolds attacking the party's camp when they pass back through the same patch of woods where kobolds attacked them before? If the kobolds simply recognize the party as people they've attacked unsuccessfully before, maybe the kobolds should use better ambush tactics the second time around (and discover too late that their would-be victims are far more formidable now than they were the last time the kobolds got trounced). I certainly don't see why they'd suddenly be absent from the woods on a later date without some kind of good story driven excuse, in any case.

My preference for handling the problem of keeping the game challenging is not to inflate the general run of enemies the PCs will encounter, and cut out enemies who have become too weak to really challenge them, but to take one (or both) of two approaches:

  1. I could run a tremendous, epic, world-spanning plotline that leads them deeper and deeper into Big Events that have, in some respect, been planned from the very beginning. As this happens, the PCs will get closer and closer to the main badguys of the plotline, who will naturally be more powerful than their underlings — and higher power underlings will be encountered for very logical reasons, such as the higher ranking badguys' desire to have better bodyguards and assistants than the lower ranking badguys have.

    Even while this goes on, though, it should be inevitable that the PCs encounter some low level peons from time to time, and the PCs should be allowed the opportunity to massacre them with consummate ease, giving them a boost to confidence and imbuing the game with a bit of versimilitude upon the realization that yes, the low level peons of the game world still exist. It's fun to be reminded from time to time how bad-ass your character has become, so don't focus on the higher level badguys to complete exclusion of lower level minions. It's also usually a bad idea to assume your players are too dumb to notice that a journey across the same stretch of road has gone from being moderately dangerous for any low level commoner traveling alone to being downright, ridiculously lethal for anyone but ├╝berpowerful world-class adventurers, thus effectively making merchant caravans in that area impossible.

  2. As the PCs get more powerful and more well known, they might find themselves increasingly drawn into situations where combat skills are not the only conflict resolution capabilities that are important to success. I like to make use of this sort of thing from the beginning, of course, but I like to change the comparative quantity of such different types of conflict resolution as a campaign progresses. By changing the style of conflict that is most common, I also change the flavor of the conflict, keeping things varied and interesting — and challenging, as high level characters who have been improving combat skills almost exclusively (for instance) suddenly find themselves in need of more social skills (also for instance) to deal with whole new classes of problems. I actually tend to prefer to use this technique for keeping the game challenging regardless of whether I'm using the technique described under point 1 above.

In high level games, there's always the threat of players losing interest in the game as it becomes increasingly obvious to them the only reason the game is still challenging is universal inflation of the power levels of the world's denizens to match the power levels of the PCs. When the continued challenge of the game isn't strictly dependent on toe-to-toe combat (just graduated from low hit die monsters to high hit die monsters), but instead draws upon a wide range of types of challenge, I don't have to live in constant fear of that threat.

I think the end result of mixing up the types and intensity of challenges is not only a far more fun campaign for people who like a roleplaying intensive game, but a far more memorable campaign, too. There's only so many times one can fight whatever the next hit dice level's equivalent to a kobold is before they all start blurring together, after all.

What if D&D was more restrictive?

Filed under: Geek,Liberty,RPG — Tags: , , — apotheon @ 09:12

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

In What if 4E was open?, I discussed the business possibilities available to Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro via opening up the licensing for Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition. It was an idea that basically picked up where 6D6 Fireball's own What if 4e was free? left off.

The core premise of What if 4e was free? was essentially that, if you were in charge of 4E business strategy:

The best possible thing that you can do is give away ALL the 4e books as free, black & white only, PDFs.

The point of this would be that the availability of core books as free PDFs would serve as part of a loss leader marketing strategy. Loss leaders are things that are given away for free, or at least sold for below cost, because the losses can be made up via some related revenue stream that gains extra customers thanks to the loss leader. In short, a loss leader is what you get when you turn something that is traditionally a product into a marketing tool.

It may seem like a counterintuitive move for a for-profit business to make, but it actually makes perfect sense when you break everything down to a comparison of costs vs. revenue. Television commercials, booths at conventions, and advertising brochures all typically end up costing any but the very largest company a noticeable chunk of its marketing budget, and giving away a product as a loss leader is no different in this respect. Television commercials, booths at conventions, and advertising brochures all help to build awareness of, and interest in, revenue generating products and services; loss leaders are no different in this respect, either.

Calculating the relative value of the costs for marketing efforts (including loss leaders), lost revenues for loss leaders that could otherwise have generated their own profits, and the long-term profit boosts for other revenue streams that are gained through those marketing efforts is what makes the difference between one marketing strategy and another. Any time a potential marketing strategy yields benefits that exceed its costs significantly, it's worth considering, and there's a decent chance that in the long run the loss leader strategy proposed by 6D6 Fireball would meet those criteria, especially when WotC/Hasbro has already done so much to damage its image in the RPG industry in the last year or so.

In What if 4E was open? I discussed the idea of making 4E open, rather than free; of opening up the licensing, as an alternative to giving the core game away for free. Overall, I think this would generate a greater quantity of goodwill and word of mouth marketing amongst players. Even if, in direct consequence of such a strategy, it only matched the goodwill and popularity that could be generated by free distribution without open licensing, it would generate far greater marketing benefits by way of ensuring that third-party publishers had a way to generate their own profits by effectively marketing D&D for WotC/Hasbro, free of charge.

WotC/Hasbro has decided to take a different approach, however. Instead of building further goodwill with both players and third-party publishers, it has continued its current trend of pissing off everyone it possibly can. As if the obviously punitive, anticompetitive intent of the 4E GSL were not off-putting enough, WotC has demanded that all third-party distributors of WotC PDFs cease selling them.

The first I heard of it was when my SigO told me this morning she had gotten an email from Paizo (publishers of the upcoming Pathfinder RPG, already available as a free beta test PDF) announcing the cessation of WotC PDF sales in the company's online store. Of course, I got the same email, so when I checked my email this morning I got the following message from Paizo myself:

Dear Chad,

Wizards of the Coast has notified us that we may no longer sell or distribute their PDF products. Accordingly, after April 6 at 11:59 PM Pacific time, Wizards of the Coast PDFs will no longer be available for purchase on paizo.com; after noon on April 7, you will no longer be able to download Wizards of the Coast PDFs that you have already purchased, so please make sure you have downloaded all purchased PDFs by that time.

We thank you for your patronage of paizo.com. Please check out our other downloads at paizo.com/store/downloads.

Sincerely yours,
The Paizo Customer Service Team

(Meanwhile, Paizo will continue offering free PDF downloads of the beta test version of Pathfinder RPG, at least until the final release version becomes available this August — and after that point, it'll still be licensed under the terms of the OGL, and they've stated they'll offer an SRD containing all OGL materials from the core game for free, too. It's paying off for Paizo, which has seen sales rate increases and huge increases in goodwill amongst gamers, building a loyal community of fans.)

This is a very puzzling move by the purveyors of the D&D brand, from the perspective of someone looking for the good business sense in it. WotC/Hasbro derived nontrivial profits from PDF sales through third party distributors, and because of the lower price to players for PDFs as opposed to hardcopy books, at least some minimal part of the sort of benefit proposed at 6D6 Fireball could be had.

James Mishler at Adventures in Gaming addressed this move by WotC in Wizards cuts OBS Loose?!?. In comments, someone named Scott reveals that "A WotC rep has posted on their forum that the change is a response to illegal file sharing." In another comment, Jeff Rients (yes, that Jeff Rients, of the much ballyhooed Threefold Model of gaming) succinctly summed up the stupidity of such a move in two sentences:

So in response to piracy they're going to make sure the only way I can get a PDF copy is by piracy? That's pure fucking genius, right there.

In fact, the comments are the best part of the Adventures in Gaming posting, and worth reading, because of the demonstration of the effect WotC/Hasbro's actions are having on its popularity amongst gamers and game developers among other reasons.

Jeff Rients has his own Weblog post about this move by WotC/Hasbro and its "piracy" reasoning, titled It's a visceral reaction. It's short and sweet — and I'm coincidentally wearing a t-shirt with that picture on it right now. It's a very appropriate picture, considering Johnny Cash (the angry gentleman in the photo) used it as a billboard ad campaign for his independent label, and the gesture was aimed at the major players in the record industry who (like WotC/Hasbro) set out to punish all customers for supposed transgressions by a few, to screw over symbiotic businesses, and to really hose its content producers.

I'll close this with a quote from Bandit Country's Who Owns?, yet another reaction to WotC/Hasbro's latest antisocial move:

A number of connected issues have come to the fore. At what point does the game you play become your own? Where is the transition from purchased (or pirated) product to private play? Who Owns?

You do.

Game on, friends. Don't let "the man" keep you down.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License