My Quick 5e Thoughts

Newbie DM - Sat, 07/19/2014 - 16:16

I wanted to give a quick and dirty “opinion post” on 5e, and this is not meant to be a comprehensive review, just quick thoughts… By now I’ve had a chance (and hopefully if you’re interested in 5e, you have as well) of reading and playing with both the basic rules pdf and the Starter Set for the new 5th edition of D&D. My thoughts on the game are generally positive, and I’ve been able to see it from both sides of the screen.  That said, we are still looking at a very incomplete picture here… no PHB, DMG or MM, so we must keep that in mind…

On the player’s side of things, I appreciate the new lighter approach the rules have taken. Everything is fairly streamlined, ability score bonuses play an important part in the game, and fidgety bonuses have been condensed to Advantage/Disadvantage and proficiency bonuses that don’t change too much through the character’s career.   I also appreciate the game’s attempt at making backgrounds, flaws and other character traits take center stage, granting mechanical rewards for using them in play. D&D has rarely been too interested in how its players role-play, so seeing the new inspiration rule in play brings a smile to my face. I like to see good role-playing at the table, whether I am playing or DMing.

The game just including (for now) the classic races and classes is fine, in my opinion. If for example, Lord of the Rings is your only source of a fantasy frame of reference, you know what a dwarf is, or an elf. A wizard is like Gandalf and a rogue is like Bilbo. No Eladrin, Shardminds or Wilden need apply. We’ll get all that stuff later on in the game’s life, and that’s fine by me.

The short and sweet combat rules are another aspect I like, although I admit that they read to me like a grid game that purposely decides to not mention it is a grid game. Creatures still occupy a 5′ space, which is entirely arbitrary and comes from the game’s previous grid based rules. Nevertheless, the game’s attempt at not requiring a grid is fine, although I feel that there aren’t enough adequate examples for new players on how to run a combat off the grid, just using your imagination. FWIW, I used a grid when I DM’ed the game here at home. I’m also really enjoying the magic pseudo-vancian rules they’ve come up with. Some spells can be cast as rituals, and low level spells can be cast using a higher level spell slot for a stronger effect. We’ll see how the magic vs. martial thing pans out as the edition gets played, as this has been one of the biggest concerns amongst 4e players regarding 5e.

As a DM who came over from 4e, I’m missing rules on encounter building, and the elegance of the 4e stat block for the monsters. There was just something about the way that stat block was laid out that popped and drew your eyes to certain spots on the page. 5e isn’t as nice for me in that regard, and although it wasn’t hard to read or run with, I’m sticking with 4e as my favorite D&D stat block yet. The starter set includes enough in the adventure to give you a few good meaty sessions of play, so that not having the hard covers will affect your play time, but once you get past it you’ll have no use for it again. It brings no maps, tokens, or anything of the sort. It’s really meant to (A) draw in new players, and (B) give fans of D&D something to get started with and try out 5e before it’s really out later this year.

Overall, I’m happy with the direction 5e took. There’s a certain something about it that draws me back to 2e (the edition I played the most in the old days). The writing and  prose used in the basic set draws me in and makes me want to tell stories in these worlds, and I know that  this is entirely subjective and you may not agree with me, but that’s the feel of this game for me. Right now I’m cautiously optimistic with D&D. The tone, the attempts at inclusivity, the call backs to older fiction and worlds, and it’s attempt at reaching out to players of all editions of the game are hitting the right notes for me. I’m on board.


If you’d like to help support, you can by using these Amazon links if you decide to purchase these D&D products at Amazon:


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“There can be no heroes where there is no doubt.” - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 01:50
Being that our name is, we often get emails about DMing questions.  Here’s some from one of our readers, Seth, who writes: “So I am an aspiring DM who is trying...

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Gargoyle! - Fri, 07/11/2014 - 19:38
This is another illustration I did for the Behind the Monsters Omnibus from Tricky Owlbear. I was pretty happy with how it turned out and even happier when the publisher told me the illustration...

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Talking about the 5e Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set

Newbie DM - Sun, 07/06/2014 - 17:04

I’ll review the product soon, but I wanted to post this here for now… Mike Shea from and I recorded a google hangout where we talk about the new 5e starter box for about an hour. If you’re into watching grown men talk about elves and dwarves, I invite you to check it out.


Console Cleric #3: How Diablo III helps D&D - Tue, 07/01/2014 - 11:11
Ah, Diablo.  Where you went through 16 dungeon levels killing monsters before entering Hell itself to fight a Prime Evil.  If you read (thank you), then you most likely play or...

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Behind the Gear-spun Curtain: A Purely Steampunk Look at Game Design - Fri, 06/27/2014 - 18:22
Creating new races or writing for old ones can be a chore. Given that no matter how incredible our idea may be someone somewhere has probably already done it, we think there are a couple key design...

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WOTC Posts a D&D Starter Set Unboxing Video

Newbie DM - Tue, 06/24/2014 - 00:03

WOTC published an unboxing video today of its upcoming Starter Set box, and I have to say that at first glance, I’m impressed and hopeful that it’ll be a good product. Based on what I can see on the video, it looks like a high quality product (expected from a publisher like WOTC). Full disclosure: I’ve pre ordered one already, although I’m hoping to land a review copy anyway, but in the case I don’t, I’ve bought one to make sure I give it a thorough review here on my site. It’s time to start writing about D&D again.

I was not a fan of the 4e red box, and I’m hoping that this product really is a starter set suitable for new DMs to pick up the game and get rolling right away.

Anyway, here’s the video, and here’s a link to its Amazon’s pre-order page (in case you’d like to support the site a bit).



Dropping skills for backgrounds in Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition

A Hero Twice a Month - Tue, 06/17/2014 - 22:52

I am the kind of guy who writes pages of character backgrounds for my characters.  Some of them probably qualify as short stories.  Sometimes they are written from a first person point of view, other times in the form of a journal, occasionally from a third person omniscient or the point of view of another character in the story.  I feel I need to write these backgrounds in order to properly play my character.  Even in the MMORPG City of Heroes, where I never played with deep role-players, each of my ‘toons’ had surprisingly detailed character backgrounds.

I realize not everyone plays this way.  When I am running games getting character backgrounds from some of my players is like pulling teeth.  Often players will present me with character backgrounds no more complex than “I grew up in a peasant village and when I was old enough I left to find my fortune”.  That is OK, everyone has a different playing style.

Still, I like games that encourage characters to develop their background a bit.  Probably the first game I encountered that did this was Warhammer Fantasy in which your character development was tied to your career path.  Knowing that your character was a rat catcher or a merchant before they began adventuring wasn’t much, but it was something.  Last Unicorn Games short-lived Star Trek: The Next Generation RPG took a similar path, where during character generation you would take a number of ‘tours’ on previous starships to determine your skillset.  Maybe you spent a tour on the USS Hood as a security officer even though you were in command now so you were handy with a phaser.

I think my favorite take on this mechanic so far is in 13th Age.  During character creation you allocate a number of points to backgrounds.  Rather than specific skills you might say you spent time as a cat-burglar, a guild mage, or a merchant.  Maybe you were a poacher (4 points) who was drafted as a soldier (2 points) and then became a animal trainer (2 points) when you got out.  Rather than have a specific list of skills, you roll and add an appropriate ability modifier plus points in your background where you would roll a skill check in D&D.  If the party needed to track someone through the woods and one character had a poacher background while another had a bounty hunter background, both could make the roll using their background points plus their wisdom modifier.  However, if they needed to tie up a captive probably only the bounty hunter background would be applicable.

During the D&D Next playtest, I always thought this system would be easy to implement as a house rule.  D&D Next was already more skill light than D&D 3e or D&D 4e after all.  So I was pleased to hear that at Origins there was talk of an optional module that would use backgrounds instead of skills in a similar manner.  Assuming it is well implemented, I would definitely use that option in any D&D 5e games I run.

Or I guess I could just run a 13th Age instead.  It really is a fun system.

What digital offerings I want from D&D 5e

A Hero Twice a Month - Wed, 06/11/2014 - 22:26

Bad digital tools make me want to burn the whole place down!My gaming group makes extensive use of digital tools when playing.  We have vast PDF libraries that keep us from breaking our backs hauling books back and forth.  We use various character generation tools to assist with character creation and tracking.  We use virtual game tables both for ease of play and to allow members who cannot attend locally to join in the fun remotely.  Digital tools are an essential part of our game.  Trapdoor Technologies, a new licensee for Dungeons & Dragons digital tools, asked on their website what we want out of Codename Morningstar.  Here is my wish list.

Affordable PDFs

This is more in Wizards of the Coast court than Trapdoor Technologies.

Wizards of the Coast has a spotty history when it comes to PDFs.  In third edition PDFs were priced exactly the same as the physical book.  This meant that they often cost more than you could get the physical books for off of Amazon and even most local game stores.  It also meant that at $30 or more a pop that most gamers had to make a choice between buying a physical book or buying the PDF.  Personally, I enjoy reading a physical book but love the convenience of a searchable PDF during game play.  By offering PDFs at a reasonable price Pazio and other publishers have encouraged me to purchase both.

In fourth edition Wizards of the Coast moved away from PDFs and offered up the D&D Compendium as a digital alternative.  The D&D Compendium was great, but it didn’t allow you to see the rules in their original context.  There is a place for a tool like the D&D Compendium, but I does not replace PDF versions of the books.

Of course Wizards of the Coast has made great strides in their PDF offerings with the D&D Classics site.  However, they still tend to be a bit pricey on the newer stuff and don’t tend to release PDFs concurrently with their new releases.  I hope that this will change with the release of fifth edition.

A robust and customizable character generator

I like character generators and I even liked the D&D Character Builder offered through D&D Insider.  It had a major flaw though, as it did not handle house rules very well.  This is why I prefer a character generator like PCGen.  The ability to load my own datasets far outweighed the occasional quirkiness of the program.  Strong support for house rules is a must.

A useful virtual game table

There are a lot of great virtual game table products out there.  Personally, we use MapTools, but Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds are great products as well.  A great virtual game table must be customizable, allow easy access to remote players, and provide useful management tools for the DM to run encounters.  All three of the virtual game tables I have listed above do this.

To be honest the opportunity here is almost closed.  Where there is still opportunity is to integrate this in with the vast stores of data Wizards of the Coast can provide.  Making it seamless to drop in monsters with full stats and seamless integration with character sheets would make all the difference.  I know it would convince me to switch.

Campaign management tools

There is probably a lot of room for improvement here.  Realm Works is great for campaign prep, but  Obsidian Portal is probably the leader here.  It bills itself as a campaign wiki site, but it provides a lot of tools for game masters to keep track of the locations and characters while only surfacing to the players what the game master wants them to know. 

Outside of the gaming software world, I have found both Workflowy (an outliner) and Evernote (a robust note taking program) to be invaluable tools for organizing campaigns.  I have also been considering trying Scrivner, which is intended for authors who are organizing a novel, but would probably work just as well for a campaign.

I would look to all of these tools for inspiration.

It is more than just a Windows world

D&D Insider ran on Microsoft Silverlight.  While some of my group members use Windows laptops, some use MacBooks, Ubuntu Linux laptops, iPads, and Android devices.  Silverlight did not work very well for them.

Please make sure that whatever digital solutions are created are multi-platform.  Make sure that these solutions are mobile friendly as well.

Behind the Gear-spun Curtain: A Purely Steampunk Look at Game Design - Wed, 06/11/2014 - 21:39
Pure Steam™ is first and foremost a campaign setting. Settings are important to films, TV, comics, radio plays, novels, and books of all sorts. Settings are places, but settings are also more...

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Wizards of the Coast’s new model?

A Hero Twice a Month - Tue, 06/10/2014 - 21:20

Wizards of the Coast is working with a new licensee, Trapdoor Technologies, to deliver digital tools for Dungeons & Dragons 5e.  In May, Wizards of the Coast announced Kobold Press designed two of the adventures to support the Tyranny of Dragons storylineDriveThruRPG has been powering Dungeons & Dragons Classics for awhile now.  I think this may represent a subtle shift in how Wizards of the Coast is handling Dungeons & Dragons.

I’ve already talked at length about how I feel Wizards of the Coast should focus on their core competencies and let others develop tools for the game in the context of the OGL. It looks like Wizards of the Coast is doing this, except instead of an open source model they are planning to work with specific licensees to fill the void.

While I would personally prefer an open source model, this makes sense from Wizards of the Coast’s point of view.  They can focus their internal resources on the rules and farm tasks that go outside their core competencies to other groups while still maintaining a tight control over how their intellectual property is used.  Seriously, this is win-win for them.

Hopefully, they will open things up a bit more down the road, as Mike Mearls said they would in 2015.  I still maintain that a robust gaming license is good for the hobby, and that what is good for the hobby is good for Dungeons & Dragons.

Essay: Bigotry, Cognitive Dissonance, and Submission Guidelines

Bibliophile Stalker - Thu, 05/29/2014 - 20:07
First off, before I start, I wanted to say I didn't want to write this blog entry. Not because it needs to be said, not because it's another controversy in the speculative fiction field, and not because I'm probably the least qualified person to talk about it, but rather because it's another case of a privileged White Anglo-Saxon Male who posts something problematic on the Internet, and marginalized groups get to respond.

So instead of starting off with what's wrong, let me begin with what's right. When talking about diverse anthologies and submission guidelines, here are some books that fit the bill:

Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History edited by Rose Fox & Daniel Jose Older | Submission Guidelines
Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell & Joe Monti

Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall | Submission Guidelines

THE SEA IS OURS: TALES OF STEAMPUNK SOUTHEAST ASIA edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng Submission Guidelines

Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios | Submission Guidelines (disclosure: I work for Twelfth Planet Press)

With that aside, I want to point out two Guest of Honor speeches from the recently-concluded Wiscon 38. One from Hiromi Goto and another from N.K. Jemisin. Here's an excerpt:

"How important, then, that published stories come from diverse sources; from the voices, experiences, subjectivities and realities of many rather than from the imagination of dominant white culture. For even as we’ve been enriched and enlightened by tales from Western tradition, stories are also carriers and vectors for ideologies. And the white literary tradition has a long legacy of silencing, erasing, distorting and misinforming." - Hiromi Goto"We’ve seen that bigotry directed not just toward black authors but authors of all races other than white; not just along the racial continuum but the axes of gender, sexual orientation, nationality, class, and so on. We’ve seen it aimed by publishers and book buyers and reviewers and con organizers toward readers, in the form of every whitewashed book cover, every “those people don’t matter” statement, and every all-white, mostly-male BookCon presenters’ slate." - N.K. JemisinI want to home in on a specific passage from Jemisin's speech:
"A SFWA affiliate member posted a call for civility on his website; in the process he called me “an Omarosa” and a “drama queen”, but of course he didn’t mean those in a racialized or gendered way... And let me emphasize that I am by no means the only woman or person of color who’s been targeted by threats, slurs, and the intentional effort to create a hostile environment in our most public spaces. People notice what happens to me because for better or worse I’ve achieved a high-enough profile to make the attacks more visible. But I suspect every person in this room who isn’t a straight white male has been on the receiving end of something like this — aggressions micro and macro. Concerted campaigns of “you don’t belong here”."On the very same day Jemisin made her speech, a call for submissions for an anthology titled World Encounters went up (you can find the screenshot from The Radish of the edited submission guidelines as of 2014/05/27), from the same editor who called Jemisin an "Omarosa" and "drama queen" (the original post has been deleted as of 2014/05/28).

Now there are two points I want to tackle: the submission guidelines itself, for the Formalists out there, and the editor. Why does the latter matter? Because as someone whose culture has been marginalized, to quote Hiromi Goto, I don't want to be part of "a long legacy of silencing, erasing, distorting and misinforming." And when you're a writer, your immediate gatekeeper is your editor. You want your editor to be someone informed, someone you can trust. Imagine, for example, if the editor of an LGBT anthology was Orson Scott Card. Wouldn't you, either as a writer or a reader, find that problematic?

Also, to clarify, I don't think there will be a "perfect" editor or anthology. There will always be something that people will complain about, or find problematic. But on the other, that's no excuse for cultural appropriation (especially from people of privilege), and it's easy to screw things up. Case in point, Wil Wheaton's non-apology when using the term "spirit animals," even when it's explained to him why it's wrong.

I. The Submission Guidelines

What if aliens landed on Earth right next door? How would your neighbors react? What about you? What if they landed all over the world? How would people of different cultures respond? What about Earth explorers encountering aliens on their own planets far from home? The premise is fine. It sounds generic, but nothing problematic yet.

Submissions outside these dates and parameters will be summarily rejected and cannot be resubmitted. I reserve the right to close submissions at any time if the slush pile is too big and I have what I need. No money is promised or contracts offered until the Kickstarter funds. No simultaneous submissions.

Also, people who are living or have lived in NonWestern cultures, especially the ones they write about, will absolutely have a leg up as authenticity is really important to me.

Here, there is an attempt to reach out to marginalized groups, although this would immediately be contradicted by the editor's succeeding paragraph (see below). Also, it assumes that:

  1. The authors will actually write about the culture they've interacted with ("especially the ones they write about") because there's always a possibility that I, a Filipino, might write about Japan, and what do I really know about Japan?
  2. That the authors will automatically be familiar and understand the culture, because the possibility that they are "cultural tourists" couldn't possibly happen, and
  3. As a reader, the authenticity that I care about is what's written on the page, not the author's biography; a knowledgeable person might not necessarily be able to adeptly convey their experiences for example.
Multi-award winner Mike Resnick will be writing a new Africa story for this, and there will be other headliners with reserved slots, including Kay Kenyon and Jack McDevitt, but I will be looking for 10-15 stories from the open call.
Wait, wait, a privileged Western white writer writing about Africa? This hasn't been done before!

And Mike Resnick has written about Africa before. He must get it right, right?

In many ways, the editor's oversight of this fact is part of a larger, arguably unconscious, racism on his part. Take for example his blog entry titled Broadening The Toolbox Through Cross Cultural Encounters: On Resnick, Africa & Opportunity. Instead of talking about writers from the continent of Africa (and it's a large continent, so there's a large pool of writers like Chinua Achebe, Lauren Beukes, and Joan De La Haye), we get Mike Resnick. Nnedi Okorafor gets mentioned but only as an off-hand comment, rather than the focus of the article.

So when talking about an anthology that's diverse and inclusive, neither Mike Resnick, Kay Kenyon, or Jack McDevitt are what I'd consider the examples you should be touting as a contributors. Because to many, it appears that you are favoring the already privileged writers instead of those marginalized.

I won't even comment that an author that was touted in the original version was eventually rescinded in the edited version, after it was brought up to the said author's attention.

The goal is to have stories by a few known and upcoming Western writers but also include some up and coming foreign natives writing from their own cultural view as well to give exposure to SF from outside the Western world as long as it matches the theme. I will be limiting the number of Western writers included to be sure we get those outside voices. Words matter. Here, we have a contradictory paragraph. On one hand, it claims that it wants to give "foreign natives" a chance. First off, you don't call writers of other cultures foreign natives. It's foreign to you and they are natives to you (when was the last time people referred to themselves as natives?). It already tips the editor's hand that the book is from a Western paradigm. On the other hand, it's also the Western writers that seem prioritized here. I mean that's why we have guaranteed authors like Mike Resnick, Kay Kenyon, and Jack McDevitt (none of which are, ahem, "foreign natives").

Stories can be Past, Future, Present, on Earth or off, let your imagination run. But I don’t want a bunch of alien POV stories.

I’d like varied POV from different cultures, so I want 1 or 2 from alien POV but not half the anthology or a third. I want some set on Earth and some off. Some could be on starships, too. But I don’t want all. So if you are setting them on Earth and if you are using American POV or Alien POV, please let me know so I can encourage balance.

I would accept a really good story longer than 7 k, but contact me and it will be under much more scrutiny. 3-5k is my sweet spot, honestly. 5-7 is okay but, again, not ideal because I have so many great people wanting in and I’d love to have as many stories, authors and cultures represented as possible. Of course I will take the best stories. If it works out at 12 instead of 20, so be it. But I’m just telling you what I’m shooting for.

This is just horrible writing. This can be summed up "I want X, but not too much of X, or too little of X." That's not to say you won't be making these decisions as an editor, but it's usually made after you've received all the submissions, not before.

I want this to reach a broad audience, including education uses, so if you use foul language, humorous setting is going to be easier sell than serious and if you drop more than two F-bombs in a story, you are lessening your chances. Same goes for “goddammits,” “shit,” “asshole,””mf,” and you get the picture. I am not trying to be a prude or force my beliefs on you. I just want to balance an audience because people need to learn about cultures and perspectives and that has educational value. To quote the description at the top: “we’d like this to be a collection parents and kids can read and discuss to learn and encourage interest in SF and other cultures.”

This means I also don’t want political stories. No bashing other people groups, cultures or belief systems/parties. This is not to be divisive but uniting, because my experience has taught me there are a lot of other viewpoints in the world we Westerners can learn from, but hearing them won’t happen if we turn people away.

First, all stories are political. In fact, the paragraph banning "goddammits," "shit," "asshole," etc. is a political decision. When someone says they're not political, what they really mean is that their politics belongs to the status quo, and they don't want to challenge that. One example is Nintendo's recent statement regarding same-sex marriage in a their video game, Tomodachi Life:

“Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of ‘Tomodachi Life,”
What they really mean by "no social commentary" is "we are against homosexual partnerships."

Second, we go back to the dominance of the Western paradigm in the anthology. That's why words like "we Westerners" are used. What is the point of soliciting stories from Non-Western writers, if inevitably, their stories will be Westernized to cater to a a perceived Western audience?

I love action but I’d also like a bit of levity so humor is good. I don’t want all humor. And I don’t want all action but I do need some of both. (How’s that for being specific.) That being said, sex and graphic violence also should be kept out.  Pretty obvious. Enough said. Smatterings of foreign words for flavor are fine, but we should be able to interpret it in context. You can play with (translations in parenthesis too) but too much of that just increases word count and makes it harder to read.Again, more bad writing (I want X, but not too much...). With the bolded part, the editor betrays their lack of understanding of other cultures and the craft of writing.

First, for great writers, foreign words are included in the text not necessarily because they're flavor, but because they're essential to the story. Second, if an author chooses (or does not choose to) translate a word and place it in parenthesis, there's a reason for it, and it's not due to extending the word count. Third, if it's harder to read, that's because the author doesn't condescend to the reader.

As I am expecting an Africa story from Mike Resnick, seek authenticity.  He’s famous for his Africa stories and I have no doubt whatever he does will be brilliant. After all, he’s got Nebula and Hugo nominations and awards for these stories. Which means, if you write Africa, expect to be compared.First, writers are only as good as the work they submit. No competent editor would blindly accept a story that hasn't been written yet. Because it could be crap, and that's regardless of your politics.

Second, some would argue Resnick's stories are inauthentic. And it doesn't also mean that another writer, say one hailing from South Africa, will write an inferior South African story.

This editor has been to Africa, Mexico and Brazil and studied the cultures, countries and religions extensively, for example, so please research any culture you choose. Do not write what you think they are. Do not write stereotypes.  Africa is a continent. Mexico and Brazil are countries. To equate the two is an inability to understand their cultural nuance, especially from someone who proclaims they have studied the culture, countries, and religions extensively.

I am inviting a few Western writers whom I know have traveled and have strong cultural knowledge, sensitivity and passion for places they visited.
Translation: because despite my previous claims that this anthology is for writers outside of the Western world, this is really for my Western writer friends (because we don't have enough of those!).

Not every Mexican is the same, for example, but please have it so your Mexicans are real enough my actual Mexican friends would tell me you got it right. (I do have friends around the world who will read for cultural authenticity before I make final selections, so I want authentic.)
Here we have a contradiction. On one hand, the editor is making a claim that Mexicans are diverse. On the other hand, he also wants a Mexican archetype that will ring true to every Mexican (or at least his friends, because his friends represents Mexico). Which is faulty because you can't please everyone in a culture, because that's the definition of diversity. I can write about my own Filipino experience, and it might ring true to some Filipinos, but will sound faulty for others.

Also, it seems the barometer for cultural expertise is "they are my friends from around the world," which honestly isn't very methodical.

Here's a Bingo card from The Angry Black Woman:

What are the odd little cultural quirks people exhibit which would strike outsiders as odd but insiders as perfectly normal? Use those in your story for humor, confusion, etc. Yes, because we should pander to our Western audience. And not because cultural quirks are essential to the story.

Must be willing to respect the editor’s editing requests. No assholes allowed. Seriously. Also, if you have slandered my name or resent me for not sharing your views, don’t bother. I guarantee I won’t.To borrow an image from The Radish:

I guess the editor can slander and resent other people, but not the other way around.

II. The Editor

So Thomas Bryan Schmidt claims that "[he] has not said or done anything racist or sexist in his entire life" (source). Despite in the same blog post, he labels N.K. Jemisin as an Omarosa. Or, you know, his history of name calling, whether it's due to a person's gender or race.

Look, full disclosure. I've said lots of racist and sexist things in my life. I've screwed up, horribly. So I wouldn't make any attempt to claim that I'm not racist or sexist. But I'm willing to tackle, to change, and to correct myself. I don't always succeed.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt isn't that person. He has two main problems:

1. He never blames his own writing for conveying the wrong message. For example: "I should apologize to them that THEY misconstrued and misinterpreted my words?" Or statements like this:

Regardless of your politics, that's just a bad policy for someone whose profession is writing and editing. People don't need to know you. They can only read the words you use.

2. When people try to explain, educate, or address his points, he ignores them. If he hasn't heard of you, you get banned. If he has and you're famous, he'll try to placate you.

Disregard, disregard, disregard, ban.

III. My Experience

As far back as 2012, I witnessed an exchange between Bryan Thomas Schmidt and a friend. The former had an ambiguously-worded tweet that could be interpreted as defending Save the Pearls. Bryan then wrote a blog post condemning my friend. I replied, in private and politely, why I thought his blog post was wrong, and informed him that I would be posting a rebuttal on my blog. He then took down the post, called me a bully, and banned/blocked me.

I told this and showed the transcripts to an author/editor friend of mine, and he told me neither he nor his wife would support bullies. So back in 2012, I shut up.

Maybe posting this account makes me a bully. But by not speaking out back then, it's paving the way for injustice. In 2013, Bryan posted about #SFFCivility. In 2014, it's the Submission Guidelines mentioned above. Because I have no doubt, some people will submit.

And it goes beyond those projects.

I love SF Signal. I was a contributor. I stopped contributing after 2012. It's not because Bryan Thomas Schmidt was also a contributor to the site, but that fact wasn't encouraging either. I don't know how the current members of SF Signal feel about him. [2014/05/30 Edit: He was no longer a contributor to SF Signal since the last quarter of 2013.]

Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing produced interesting podcasts before 2012. After that year? I wouldn't know. I stopped listening by then. Bryan Thomas Schmidt was a sponsor of the show, and guested a few times.

#sffwrtcht is also run by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. It's been consistent and a valuable venue for authors or publishers looking for some publicity. Bryan claims that it's inclusive, but how can it be inclusive when the owner calls people names like rotting meat, deletes tweets/comments/posts, and immediately bans people unless they're famous? So yeah, it's not a venue for me. [2014/05/30 Edit: The hashtag was apparently appropriated by Bryan from a female creative and was never acknowledged.]

I'll just be here, with the rest of #TeamRottenMeat.

Mike Mearls (briefly) addresses the gaming license.

A Hero Twice a Month - Thu, 05/29/2014 - 00:44

At the end of my last post, where I expressed my concern that D&D 5e might not have a gaming license, I stated that “for all I know Wizards of the Coast will announce a liberal gaming license tomorrow and I will look like an idiot”.  Well, that didn’t exactly happen but I was quite surprised to see Mike Mearls bring up this very concern in his post today.

I wish I could believe he was aware of my tiny little blog, but the reality is it shows how important the concept of a gaming license is to the gaming community as a whole.  Obviously my concerns were shared by many.

Parsing Mearls post we can only be sure of a couple of things.  First is that there will be some kind of “mechanism” that will allow fans to create their own gaming materials.  Second is that whatever this mechanism is that it will not debut until sometime in 2015.

This doesn’t alleviate my concerns, although I am glad to see that it is on Mearls mind.  I did notice that he was careful not to use the word “license” in describing how fans would be able to create their own materials, although I am not reading too much into it at this early stage of the game.

Whatever mechanism Wizards of the Coast provides I doubt we will ever see anything as broad as the OGL again.  Maybe they don’t have to.  In the comments of my last post it was noted by Nicholas Bergquist that the OGL is broad enough to make material that is functionally compatible with D&D 5e even if it can’t technically be billed as such.  Ultimately that genie is out of the bottle already.

Regardless I hope that Wizards of the Coast does this right.  Beyond simple books, it would be nice if they were willing to open things up a bit on the digital side.  The D&D 4e’s GSL was much more restrictive, about how the license applied to digital tools than the OGL was.  This isn’t surprising since Wizards of the Coast launched D&D Insider at the same time. 

Unfortunately, software is not what Wizards of the Coast does best.  Rather then control the tools I think it would be a smarter move to create API’s to allow others to create the tools while controlling access to their intellectual property.  I believe having robust digital tools supporting D&D, even if they didn’t create all of them, would help fifth edition reach its full potential.

From DM Screens to Poker Tables - Wed, 05/28/2014 - 01:56
It’s like real-life Revenge of the Nerds. An awkward teenager who grew up on D&D or Magic: The Gathering starts playing poker, soon rakes in a fortune and begins living the high life....

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D&D Basic is free, so how can I ask for more?

A Hero Twice a Month - Tue, 05/27/2014 - 21:15

Mike Mearls revealed today that Basic D&D will be a freely downloadable PDF.  This is big news.  I thought it was genius when during the fourth edition Wizards of the Coast made the Keep on the Shadowfell module alongside the standalone character generator (which allowed you to create characters of levels 1-3 without a D&D Insider subscription) free downloads on their website.  It was a great gateway into the new edition for those who wanted to give it a try but weren’t ready to plunk down $35 a piece on the 4e Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual.

Obviously providing Basic D&D as a freely downloadable PDF is an even bigger deal.  According to Mearls’ post, “It runs from levels 1 to 20 and covers the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, presenting what we view as the essential subclass for each. It also provides the dwarf, elf, halfling, and human as race options.”  Frankly, this is awesome.  It really lowers the barrier to entry for those that are even vaguely curious about the fifth edition.  When the price is free, if you are at all curious there is no real reason not to try it out!

So why am I disappointed about this?

Well, while I appreciate “Free as in Beer”, I really appreciate “Free as in Freedom”.

Nice, but not the best kind of free.

For those who are unfamiliar “Free as in Beer” versus “Free as in Freedom” (see also “libre” versus “gratis”) is used by the open source software community to explain the difference between “free software” which is built on closed source but given away free of charge and “free software” that has a license that allows others to build on what you created.

Since D&D 5e was first announced I wondered if there was going to be a license that would allow others to build upon it.  When D&D 3e came out, the most revolutionary thing about it were the Open Gaming License (OGL) and D20 license.  I could not believe that Wizards of the Coast had open sourced D&D!  With the D20 license, as long as you didn’t violate the terms anyone could create content compatible with D&D.  Perhaps more importantly, the OGL allowed an even greater variety games to be created from the same basic set of rules.

True, there was a lot of crap in the initial glut of material that was created after D&D 3e was released.  However, amazing games like Mutants and Masterminds and (much later) Pathfinder were a direct result of the freedom the OGL allowed.  There were also a variety of software tools, such as PCGen, which took advantage of this license.  It is amazing how much this license helped the hobby thrive.

Unfortunately, this may not seem like such a good thing from Wizards of the Coast’s point of view.   After all, one of their biggest competitors now is Pathfinder, a game that is really just a refinement of their own D&D 3e rules.  It must be hard to explain to the bean counters why another game company is outselling you with your own rule set.

There is really no reason to expect D&D 5e will have a license like the OGL.  No such license existed for AD&D 1e or 2e.  D&D 4e had a Game System License (GSL), but it was much more restrictive and much less used.  I get the feeling that Wizards of the Coast feels they gave away the crown jewels with the OGL and is determined not to make the same mistake again.

I cannot be sure whether or not the OGL was the best move for Wizards of the Coast.  However, I do feel it was good for the hobby, providing a robust base that people could build on.  As talented as the game designers at Wizards of the Coast are, they can’t fulfill every need.  Ultimately, I feel what is good for the hobby is good for D&D.  It may be hard to prove, but I don’t think it was a coincidence that D&D was at the top of the heap when the OGL reflected their most recent edition.

Of course, for all I know Wizards of the Coast will announce a liberal gaming license tomorrow and I will look like an idiot.  I tend to doubt it though.  I think Wizards of the Coast feels giving away D&D 5e Basic for free (as in beer) will be enough to keep their fans happy.  It is both a shrewd marketing decision and a genuinely nice move for the fans.  I even feel like a bit of a jerk complaining about it,  after all who doesn’t like free beer?

I guess I was just hoping for a bit more freedom.

Roper; it’s what’s not for dinner - Fri, 05/16/2014 - 23:30
Behind The Monsters by Tricky Owlbear Publishing was an ongoing series that took familiar D&D monsters and gave them a new twist, adding interesting histories, backgrounds and plot ideas....

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Adventure Seeds: Time Travel! - Tue, 05/13/2014 - 10:49
Who doesn’t enjoy a good time travel story? The idea’s been prevalent in fiction for centuries. Whether it’s something where time travel is usually just a framing device like Doctor Who, or whether...

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Weretyrannosaurus - Sat, 05/10/2014 - 09:37
The good folks at Super Genius Games (now known as Rogue Genius Games) commissioned me to do an entire series of illustrations for a product called Monster Menagerie: Howl at the Moon. This...

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Clone Wars expressions for your D&D games - Sun, 05/04/2014 - 21:54
Hey there DMing readers.  Today is May 4th, a fan-created ‘holiday’ to celebrate (cue John Williams’ trumpets) Star Wars.  Like a lot of you I grew up on the holy trilogy, left...

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Lamia Serpent Blade Warrior - Fri, 05/02/2014 - 03:56
Kobold Press publishes an interesting and popular series called Advanced Races. I wrote the most recent installment, Advanced Races: Lamia. It details the lamia history, culture and religion as well...

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