Ennies, Fourthcore, Gencon and the Soul-Stealing Character Builder

Now in ‘Ennie Nominated’ Flavor!

I’m very proud to announce that 2 things I’m very wrapped up in have been nominated for a total of 3 Ennie Awards this year! Both Obsidian Portal (Best Website) and Revenge of the Iron Lich (Best Adventure, Best Free Product) received nominations and I’m absolutely floored!Ā I wrote quite a bit about this on my personal blog earlier in the week so I won’t drone on here but I’d just like to put it out here as well in hopes that you’ll [highlight1]please cast your vote in my direction[/highlight1] when the polls open up in just a few days.

Fourthcore, What’s Next for Me?

OfficialCore is no more.

In the coming months after gencon I will be working with Sersa on finalizing SND02/SND03 and building a hub for fourthcore fans and like-minded people who’d like to submit, organize, playtest and talk about all things fourthcore. We will keep the genre alive and writhing through this hub.

I also have plans of releasing my first ever fourthcore delve as lead writer later this year. Though details the adventure are yet to be revealed for a multitude of reasons both professional and personal, I should say that if you have enjoyed what you’ve seen so far from the genre, hopefully you’ll equally like what I’m working toward as well. I’ll also be releasing my Dread Compendium in late 11’/early 12′. I guarantee it will turn you to dust!

Also be on the lookout for our upcoming podcast: ‘Seance’ where we’ll discuss system neutral game design, gaming difficulty, mechanics, sources of inspiration and highlight some of the best community submitted content. If you missed the final episode of the fourthcore podcast you can catch it here.

[download_link variation=”primary_red” link=”http://www.slamdancr.com/podcasts/05_eulogy.mp3″]1hr 10m | 56MB | NSFW[/download_link]

Gencon Shenanigans

Gearing up for gencon means I’ve been pretty busy these past few months and things are definitely switching into high gear now. Prepping a panel (with Dave Chalker from Critical Hits), sponsorships, getting sweet OP schwag lined up and trying to figure out what the hell to actually say If an Ennie is won – among many other things are all top tier priority right now. That being said I’ve totally neglected writing here much but I’ll attempt to keep some kind of a pace and hopefully pick it back up post-gencon but for right now I’m running on battery saver mode as far as writing goes. I’ll be posting my Gencon itinerary in the next week or so for those who’d like to meet up and hang out and such.

Where The Hell Have You Been?

These tomes don't write themselves you know!

Well aside from all of the above I’ve become a patron in the Dark Roads & Golden Hells project over at Kobold Quarterly which I’m very excited about. Bringing planescape-esque material into the 4e arena is something I’ve wanted for a long time and now I get to be a part of it! I’ll be blogging about my experiences with open design over at Words In The Dark. I’ve also got a copy of Conquest of Nerath on the block for unboxing/reviewing purposes so stay tuned right here for that and all it’s risk-meets-D&D-goodness.

I’m also bringing back Pixels & Polyhedrals for your video game monster enjoyment, as well as #D5C but under a different banner I’ll be calling [highlight2]”The Gauntlet”[/highlight2] wherein I call out for deadly tricks, traps and other devious ideas for our more daring DM’s out there.

Gaming has even been light for me as my ravenloft campaign has stalled out in our last two attempts to play and my increasing dissent for certain aspects of my game, but hey that’s a blog post for another day. Instead I’ll leave you by complaining about something else…

Character Builder Woes

I remember when I first cracked open my D&D 3.0 PHB and found the eTools disc in the back, it was momentous occasion. How awesome is that? It was some kind of divine gift from geek gods of both a D&D and computer nerdery! Being able to roll up characters with ease, a cool UI, neat little sound effects for all the buttons…Awesome!

Now 4e is here and tools like this are rampant and to be quite honest, expected of a lot of players and GM’s out there. Over the past few months I’ve played with some different folks, some very different from my own players and friends I’ve played with over the years. Yes they are min/maxers, and a few of them take the term to an extreme as far as I’m concerned. In a recent bout with myself trying to understand the why and how of this behavior the best I can compare it to, is building the perfect MTG deck. Reducing probability of failure, doubling up on the good stuff, trying to create an impenetrable force to play with. Bear in mind that I understand optimization and min/maxing are two completely different things so don’t go waving around your flaming stick at me just yet.

What I ask though is, when a player spends hours tweaking a character to “perfection” and maintains that perfection by absorbing every feat, rule, power and item combination, tweaking every chance they get, what do you do? They bring it to your table expecting to be devoid of failure and often are not a fan of puzzles, logic, or player-based challenges.

This has really got me thinking…”whatever happened to just…I dunno…thinking up a cool character concept and then putting it on paper?” It seems to me the minutia of character creation has almost created this metagame for D&D players, not to mention the GM’s who need to design adventures around these folks. It honestly frustrates the hell out of me and it seems to have created almost an entirely new breed of player.

I’m not saying that the character builder has “ruined D&D or anything else bombastic or ridiculous sounding by any means. All I’m asking is, do you feel that the whole process has sucked some of the creative and imaginative force from such an adored part of the game? I know I do, at least a little.


    • I use a classless system where the PCs must find trainers who can teach them and then convince them to do it or they get very slow increases. The xp is then saved up and spent in this way. It forces players to actually care about there toons, and makes them think about leveling as a logical process. They don’t want to spend all there time or xp at one place either. They want to look around and explore, ask questions, maybe not kill everyone… If they can’t find a trainer or do kill everyone they end up with tons of xp and only small changes to attributes or skills they are actually using during gameplay get raised. It works pretty well for me but I am sure its not for everyone. I just feel like classes and feats and abilities aren’t something you just ding and get, plus they really lock you into a char design.

  1. I actually find the opposite. With so many options I can decide on a character concept and then find pretty much the things that fit it. I don’t really think about optimisation but I can feel safe in the knowledge that whilst I may not have built the most efficient character, I will have a character that will be fun to play and not useless. I’ve built a bard based around Jack Black, a Roman army general Warlord and the A-Team! They’ve all been fun to play, true to my concepts and all very good at holding their own.
    I understand that the optimisation track can be taken but as the comment above said they’ve been around before.
    Different strokes an’ all that.

  2. Congratulations on the ENnies noms, I look forward to meeting you at GenCon and hanging out before/during/after the ENnies ceremony if not for the rest of the con as well!

    I hadn’t seen your Pixels & Polyhedrals series yet but good god, I love L4D and am obviously big into 4E so I’ll be tearing into that in the next few days.

    As for your CB musings, these are certainly valid concerns and interesting points brought about because of the situations the 4e CB creates, but as Draco pointed out these types of players are in no way new to D&D.

    As for the “think of a character and put it on paper”, this comes up with most RPGs and in the few that I have played which can handle nearly any type of character, I as a GM ultimately got frustrated with the types of characters some people would come up with (meaning, not serious characters at all and nearly incapable of being taken seriously). Then again, that WAS mostly highschool, so maybe things would be better now. Maybe not. šŸ˜€

    It reminds me vividly of my early D&D days, 2nd Edition, when I desperately wanted to play a plate armor wearing spellcaster (yes, I wanted to be a power gamer) but it was tough for me back in those days because I barely knew the rules and getting powerful magic items was tough and it felt like every item was random (even if they weren’t).

    What the CB does is it provides greater efficiency and access to the player (no matter how much of a pain it is to use, it still does these things for the most part) during character creation. If a player dreams up an idea and then sets about making that character in the CB, I don’t see it being that much different from back in 2e or 3e when you’d come up with a character idea and then crack open the books to see how it would work. Even the old-school revival games I’ve played in the last 2 years have this happen, though I’d argue it’s even more of a problem because then if you had a character idea that didn’t fit exactly into one of the main classes it seemed tough to me how you’d go about making them.

    • Thanks Danny! Definitely need to do some sprucing up of my L4D zombies, I always look back at my work and think “oh how amateur” even if it was only a month ago that I created it. I’ll be on the lookout for games with good baddies to steal from in the meantime.

      Anyway after much feedback regarding the CB I’m fairly certain most of it is my dumb luck with the people I’ve wound up playing with recently. I understand these personality types exist far beyond just D&D – i may even be one of them, just not when it comes to D&D. There is also the unmentioned fact that the CB *does* help facilitate more adventurous/unique builds and combinations such as plate wearing spellcasters and such. I definitely appreciate it for that, and a multitude of other reasons. I’ll keep my faith held strong stuff like this isn’t ruining gamers perspective on things and just cross my fingers I can at least keep the good company of my main play group for a long time coming! šŸ™‚

  3. I agree that the character builder has changed the game a bit for some. When my old gaming friends started 4E we created characters the way we always had–one session to go over house rules, come up with character concepts, and write everything down on a character sheet. Then they went home and redid it on the character builder so it was nice and neat and had all their powers printed out. No problem for me.

    When I started a new group recently after I moved, the players all showed up at the first session with characters already printed up, and it was jarring. They talked about scouring the feat compendium on the character builder looking for “just the right thing”, and when I asked what book that feat was from they didn’t even know. Weird. But, I think the characters are developing as the campaign progresses, so I’m trying to adapt.

    I still feel like telling these kids to get off my damn lawn every once and awhile, though.

    Congrats on the Ennies nominations! I look forward to seeing what direction fourthcore goes in.

  4. I’ve experienced a lot of the same thing you’re talking about with the CB. I ran Revenge of the Iron Lich, and having enjoyed the experience, have written a few fourthcore adventures of my own. Unfortunately, there’s a fellow in the group, the guy who hosts our events actually, who is so deeply a power-gamer, that he can’t let himself have fun unless he is utterly trouncing everything in his path.

    And it’s funny that you mention MTG, because our group plays that game too, and he uses the exact same mentality. Most of the group spends very little on their decks and such, but he blows hundreds and hundreds of dollars on EDH decks and forgets to have fun.

    I guess that’s the thing that burns me the most. It’s as if players like this are trying to be superior to their friends–as if their ultimate goal were to completely outclass their friends. I guess I just don’t understand the motivation or the apparent satisfaction they take in beating the faces off of their friends.

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