Who Is Winning The Edition War Now?

Spoiler alert: The answer is very similar to what it was last time. But let’s have some pretty graphs!

As you can see from these graphs, absolutely everything is in a steady downward spiral except 5e. This suggests to me that the recent influx is definitely from more 5e games being started rather than games of other systems being killed, with one exception. Star Wars is in a particularly steep decline, likely due to the Force Awakens slowly fading from public interest. Now that the Orr Group and D&D 5e are officially working together, some amount of 5e’s dominance is going to be due to more prominent advertising.

In other news, if current trends hold I will most definitely need to add Dungeon World to the chart starting next time, because it is currently 0.01 percentage points away from AD&D’s position. Even with the tiny numbers we’re looking at, that’s extremely well within statistical noise. Dungeon World and AD&D are about equally popular.

Source data is here.

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Who Is Winning The Edition War?

The Orr Group (those people what run Roll20) have released an industry report every quarter since Q3 2014, detailing what games have how many games and how many players according to their data. Unfortunately, there are some weaknesses in the ways they collect this data. Rather than run an Orwellian police state in which gamers are carefully monitored to ensure they are playing the game they claim they are, the Orr Group just gathers up the data on how many players have a system listed in their profile and how many games tagged with a certain system currently have at least one active player in them. This means the players metric is a list of people who say they would like to play a certain system, not the number of people who have actually played in such a game on Roll20.

The games number, on the other hand, uses the system tag from the LFG system. Players looking for a specific system in LFG search by tag, and the dropdown to select the system tag to attach to your game is a necessary part of LFG listing creation. This means it is safe to assume that a strong majority (I would posit at least 70% and likely 90%+) of Roll20 games have an accurate system tag attached to them. This is why the Orr Group uses games rather than players to rank their current most popular systems from any given quarter, it’s much more accurate. This method also has a drawback, however, because a game listing created at Roll20’s inception in September of 2012 and abandoned before the end of October is treated as an active game just the same as one that just started last month and is still ongoing, provided that at least one person wanders into the game during the quarter when the data is collected, even if it’s just the GM looking up what battle music he had in the jukebox. Since RPG campaigns have a half-life of something like 3-6 months but the games remain full of assets that their GMs may want to review or recycle for other games (which will require him to access the game, thus marking it as active even if he only comes in once every three months), an equally important measure of the game’s actual popularity is the change in percentage between quarters, which indicates how many new games are (or aren’t) being created.

At the time of writing of this paragraph, I haven’t yet seen what the results of the data are, and have only looked at the data from Q3 and Q4 2014, so I’m going to state in advance a couple of limitations in this data collection. The data covers roll20 users only, which means people who play primarily offline are not counted, and decisions made by the Orr Group regarding roll20 can affect the numbers in a way that won’t be representative of the market in general. The Orr Group runs YouTube videos and podcasts and in these they talk about some games and not others, and while I suspect the affect this has on the numbers is small, it is certainly going to be much greater on roll20 than in the market in general. That Lost Mines of Phandelver is now available on roll20 is likely to artificially inflate the prominence of 5e quite a bit for no other reason except greater availability, whereas in meatspace 5e D&D shares shelf space with 4e and Pathfinder, an effect we should take into account starting from Q2 2016 (the data for which hasn’t been released at the time of writing, but should be soon, and may be released while this is sitting in the queue).

EDIT FROM THE FUTURE: The data totally was released while this was sitting in the queue. I’m too lazy to extend my graphs for now, so I’ll run an update post sometime. Also, statistically speaking your favorite game is probably losing (nobody has a majority of players, only a plurality). Let’s all try to avoid the very tiresome and predictable flipping out over this.

Continue reading

CIP Ep. 2: Carefully Avoiding Controversy

Stubbazubba & Chamomile proudly present the Critical Insignificance Podcast, Episode 2, attack of the new age music, in which we carefully avoid a few controversies that are simply too significant for this podcast. More importantly, we plug a little-known but much-loved RTS game with a unique twist called Majesty (see Cham’s prior heads-up on the Steam sale), and Cham briefly reviews Gone Home.

We also lay out how GMs can engineer better pick-up games online, which should be a boon to anyone running a play-by-post, play-by-email, or virtual tabletop a la roll20.net game. The tl;dr version is:

It's not what you think.

It’s not what you think.

I’m going to leave this a little ambiguous, because 1) who ever understands Bane perfectly the first time? And 2) because you should listen to the podcast, though I will say this discussion starts at 14:55.

Finally, we talk about what’s going on with the D&D movie rights; Hasbro and Sweetpea Entertainment (the studio behind this, this, and this) have concluded the trial over the future of the rights, and…well we’re still waiting for either a last-minute settlement or a decision from the judge, but either way, something is going to happen on that front. We talk about why that is and what it means for D&D fans in the near future.

Listen here:

Or download.

Like the show? Please Like and Subscribe! We love positive feedback! Have some criticism? Let us know, too. Criticism is essential to this getting better, tell us what’s not doing it for you.

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Dungeons & Definitions, Part I

John Wick penned a controversial article, “Chess is not an RPG,” purporting to define role-playing games, which is only slightly easier than rhyming with “orange,” if the blogosphere’s reaction is any indication. He says that having a working definition helps Game Masters focus on the right elements of play. Here I agree, though I think it’s really more important for game designers than GMs. Either way, to help GMs, Mr. Wick defines role-playing games as games “in which the players are rewarded for making choices that are consistent with the character’s motivations or further the plot of the story.” From this he concludes that the focus many games and players have on elements of balance is misplaced, since weapon tables, for instance, have little to do with character motivations or story and don’t advance those elements of the experience. On both counts, I respectfully disagree. Continue reading

Announcing the Critical Insignificance Podcast!

Podcasts seem to complete blogs. Sometimes, there are interactions that you can’t really capture in an essay or article. Sometimes people don’t have the time to sit down and focus on words, and would much rather listen to a discussion while they do something else. As of today, Chamomile and I are proud to announce that Matters of Critical Insignificance will now cater to both sides of the information-consumer coin. It is my privilege to unveil the Critical Insignificance Podcast, a biweekly (that’s once every two weeks) romp between Chamomile and myself discussing, creating, and critiquing movies, games, and any other critically insignificant topic.

Our first episode, below, probably sounds like a first episode. Bear with us, we are fast learners and it will get better. That said, our first episode explores the line between evocation and conjuration and “telling” in both computer and table-top role-playing games. We take the film and fiction adage “show, don’t tell” one step further for interactive media: “evoke, don’t tell.” Whether that’s in creating a character in a video game or in creating an adventure for a Dungeon Master to run, designers/writers need to stop writing where the interactive player can pick it up on their own and run. Or do they? There’s also a side order of Cham channeling his inner Poe in more-than-a-decade-old The Sims. Yeah, we’re that kind of premium.

Without further, ado, then, and for your listening pleasure, I give you: the Critical Insignificance Podcast!

…Or Download Here

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Critical Insignificance Podcast by Matters of Critical Insignificance is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://k007.kiwi6.com/hotlink/6zhz1wuby1/Episode_0001_-_Evocation.mp3.

The Noise Before Defeat

Sun Tzu once said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” I assume, then, that strategy with tactics is the quick, noisy way to victory, but I guess that wasn’t poetic enough for Sun Tzu to say directly.

Sun Tzu + Internet Meme = Bad Pun

Sun, I am disappoint.

I’m not going to try and improve on the Art of War, but you know what does need improving? The tactical positioning system used in D&D-style RPGs. Currently, D&D’s positioning system is plagued with legacy issues only a 2,500-year-old general could love. No disrespect to Mr. Sun, but this town deserves a better class of elf game, and it starts with updating one of the core fundamentals of the combat engine: the battle grid. Continue reading

A New Hope for Combat

Over the past two days I’ve had a bit of a break-through, or at least an idea that has captured my attention and hasn’t collapsed in on itself yet, so I consider that pretty good.  It’s a new take on the very basic premise of combat in RPGs.

Over on this thread on RPG.net’s forums, the OP asked why people seem to think that “do damage or do something interesting” is a worthwhile trade-off.  He was confused that someone would find damage uninteresting and “other stuff” interesting.  That, along with talking to people about FFG’s new Star Wars game, Edge of the Empire, and it’s…interesting…dice mechanics made me realize something:  Damage isn’t interesting.

And that’s not just because damage is the “default” effect that you do all the time, so you’re now numb to it.  No, it’s even more meaningless than that.  Damage, as an effect, doesn’t change anything.  Your raging barbarian swats away the puny enemy’s shield and swipes across the Orc’s chest with his battleaxe leaving a red (or black!) gash an inch deep…and the Orc, unphased, just gets back in his “on guard” position, totally unchanged from before the exchange.

There’s no opening to capitalize on, no opportunity to take advantage of, no new tactical information; you totally hit the Orc and it actually did nothing for you that you can tell.  When was the last time that was ever the case in a movie, TV show, comic, or book?  In fact, what does happen in the source material is usually a lot of positioning, a lot of harmless going back and forth, maybe one or two solid connections which draw blood, which finally ends in a decisive and sudden death for the unlucky one who must die to serve the plot.

The fight between Aragorn and Lurtz from the Fellowship of the Ring is pretty much one of the most intense battles in fantasy cinema, and has a lot of injuries/blows landed, but I think there’s a grand total of 7 actual hits exchanged, and that includes Aragorn’s tackle at the beginning, and both his running Lurtz through and decapitating him right at the end.  Most of what they end up doing is disarming, dazing, grappling, and knocking down (actually, those mostly all happen to Aragorn).  There are, AFAICT, 2 instances where damage is directly dealt for its own sake, and not along with another effect.  See for yourself:

Now I’m going to approach this from another topic, raised in this thread, which is that missing is also intrinsically boring.  Tactically, nothing has changed from before you attempted.  I’ll bet Aragorn wished he had that option!  The only fights where I can imagine nothing happening like that is a saber duel between two masters, like this:

And that included a lot of testing the other guy out and sportsman-like restraint (also note the complete lack of “damage”).

Posters in that thread claimed that tactics did change since you’ve spent your turn and that’s a resource.  That’s very true, and that argument is also technically true.  However, I think that is the most boring option available.  It doesn’t work that way in most games; even in Chess or Checkers, you can’t fail to achieve any change in the game on your turn.  I think RPGs, and in particular, After Next, will be helped by discarding the old Whiff Factor paradigm for one in which combat is far more dynamic, fluid, and full of effects.  Combat where failing is fraught with danger, and the tables can turn very quickly.

To that end I’ve got a rough working design, a very barebones framework that I have to expand upon and probably retool in the future, but so far the results excite me:

  1. No HP or any kind of health, at least not in the traditional sense
  2. Armor is rolled actively by the defender, but only when a Wound is triggered
  3. Wounds are triggered when the attacker’s attack total is at least 5 greater than the defender’s defense, and a Mortal Wound is triggered when the attack total is 10 greater
  4. If, however, the attacker’s total is 5 less than the defender’s defense, then the attacker triggers a Wound, and a Mortal Wound if 10 less
  5. There are other effects, based on weapon or character abilities, that can be activated depending on the margin of success that you roll (0-4 above, 5-9 above, or 10+ above)

So what this means is that if you have a +10 attack, and your target’s defense is 15, then if you roll a natural 20, you trigger a Mortal Wound, where they have to roll what is essentially an “Armor save” against a DC set by your weapon, or receive a mortal wound and die.  If you roll a 15 or higher, you trigger a regular Wound, which they still roll against the same way.  Once the target sustains one Wound, a second Wound counts as a Mortal Wound.  Wounds and Mortal Wounds happen in addition to another effect.

Now, I really want to avoid additive bonuses in After Next.  I’d rather situational modifiers and bonuses and such be represented by stacking Advantage or other non-additive mechanics.  So, so far I have a short list of effects available for the three categories of 0-4, 5-9, and 10+:

  • Tier I (Margin of Success = 0-4) –
    • Knock Off Balance/Feint/Stun (gives Advantage to next attack against target)
    • Jab (gives target Disadvantage on their next attack)
  • Tier II (MoS = 5-9) –
    • Knock Back (Disengages the target from you, moves them away from you)
    • Grapple (Neither you nor the target can attack until ended)
    • Dis-Shield (Target loses any Shield bonus until they spend a turn to retrieve it)
  • Tier III (MoS = 10+) –
    • Knock Down (Target is knocked Prone; all attacks against the target get Advantage, and the target’s attacks take Disadvantage until he uses a turn to get up)
    • Disarm (Target cannot attack with that weapon until they spend a turn to retrieve it)

OK, so, besides the fact that Knock Back and Grapple need a little more context to be very useful, that’s a good starting list.

In case you got bored.

Shall we run a sample fight to see how it would go?

First, some rules contexts here;

  • Weapons
    • Longsword (Wound DC 14, +1 Defense)
    • Spear (Wound DC 15, Reach weapon)
    • Battleaxe (Wound DC 17)
  • Armor & Shields
    • Leather Armor (+2 Armor)
    • Chain Armor (+5 Armor)
    • Plate Armor (+7 Armor)
    • Buckler (+2 Defense)
    • Shield (+3 Defense)
    • Tower Shield (+4 Defense)
  • Offense
    • Expert (+7 Attack)
    • Average (+5 Attack)
    • Poor (+2 Attack)
  • Defense
    • Expert (+6 Defense)
    • Average (+3 Defense)
    • Poor (+1 Defense)

So, let’s put 2 heroes against 4 villains, 3 of which are mooks, 1 of which is their captain:

  • Hero 1 (the Knight)
    • Spear, Shield, Plate Armor, Average Offense, Average Defense
    • Attack = d20 + 5, Defense = 16 (10+3+3), Wound = 15, Armor = d20 + 7
  • Hero 2 (the Barbarian)
    • Battleaxe, Shield, Chain Armor, Expert Offense, Poor Defense
    • Attack = d20 + 7, Defense = 14 (10+3+1), Wound = 17), Armor = d20 + 5
  • Bandits (3)
    • Longsword, Leather Armor, Poor Offense, Poor Defense
    • Attack = d20 + 2, Defense = 12 (10+1+1), Wound = 14, Armor = d20 + 3
  • Bandit Captain
    • Longsword, Shield, Chain Armor, Average Offense, Poor Defense
    • Attack = d20 + 5, Defense = 15 (10+1+3+1), Wound = 14, Armor = d20 + 5

All right, I’m going to run this simulation.  Initiative is as follows: the Knight, the Bandit Captain, the Barbarian, then the Bandits.

Round 1)

The Knight attacks the Bandit Captain (d20+5 vs. 15 = 13, MoS = -2), but the Captain evades and knocks him off balance (Advantage on next attack against Knight).  The Captain then attacks the Knight, instead (d20+5 w/Adv vs. 16 = 6, MoS = -10), but the Knight easily counter-attacks (Armor roll, d20+5 vs. 15 = 20), and though the Captain is thrown to the ground, his armor protects him.  The Barbarian seizes the opportunity and attacks the Captain, as well, (d20+7 w/Adv vs. 15 = 25, MoS = 10) (Cap’s armor d20+5 vs. 17 = 21), but it only disarms the Captain, who is able to evade his attacks.  Bandit 1 attacks the Barbarian (d20+2 vs. 14 = 9, MoS = -5), but the Barbarian counters (B1 armor d20+3 vs. 17 = 5), leaving a painful gash on the bandit’s forearm.  Bandit 2 attacks the Barbarian, as well (d20+2 vs. 14 = 13, MoS = -1), but the Barbarian is able to knock this one off-balance (Adv on next attack on B2).  Finally Bandit 3 attacks the Barbarian (d20+2 vs. 14  = 15, MoS = 1), and is able to knock the Barbarian off his balance (Adv on next attack against Barb).

Round 2-

The Knight goes to finish off the Captain (d20+5 w/Adv vs. 15 (sans Sword bonus) = 25, MoS = 10) (Cap armor d20+5 vs. 15 = 14) and plants his spear into the Captain’s chest.  The Barbarian attacks Bandit 2 (d20+7 w/Adv vs. 12 = 17, MoS = 5) (B2 armor d20+3 vs. 17 = 5) and leaves him wounded, in addition to a little dazed (Dis on B2’s next attack).  Bandit 1 attacks the Barbarian (d20+2 w/Adv vs. 14 = 14, MoS = 0) and is able to keep him off his balance.  Bandit 2 attacks him, as well (d20+2 (Adv and Dis cancel out) vs. 14 = 17, MoS = 3) and manages to keep him off balance.  Bandit 3 attacks him, as well (d20+2 w/Adv vs. 14 = 13, MoS = -1), but the Barbarian turns the tables and leaves him off balance.

Round 3-

The Knight attacks Bandit 3 (d20+5 w/Adv vs. 12 = 23, MoS = 11) (B3 armor d20+3 vs. 15 = 10) and spears him in the gut.  He falls to the ground.  The Barbarian attacks Bandit 1 (d20+7 vs. 12 = 14, MoS = 2) and gets a jab to his face (Dis on B1’s next attack).  Bandit 1 attacks the Barbarian (d20+2 w/Dis vs. 14 = 5, MoS = -9) (B1 armor d20+3 vs. 17 = 17), and though the Barbarian counter-attacks, he is only able to knock him off balance (Adv on next attack against B1).  Bandit 2 attacks the Barbarian, as well (d20+2 vs. 14 = 19, MoS = 5) (Barb armor d20+5 vs. 14 = 11), slashing him deep across the arm.

Round 4-

The Knight attacks Bandit 1 (d20+5 w/Adv vs. 12 = 19, MoS = 7) (B1 armor d20+3 vs. 15 = 7) and similarly manages to spear him through the chest.  The Barbarian attacks Bandit 2 (d20+7 vs. 12 = 9, MoS = -3), but the Bandit is prepared and leaves the Barbarian off-balance.  Bandit 2 makes a last ditch effort against the Barbarian (d20+2 w/Adv vs. 14 = 21, MoS = 7) (Barb armor d20+5 vs. 14 = 12), and scores a penetrating blow into the Barbarian’s side, leaving him on the ground.

Round 5-

Enraged at his friend’s demise, the Knight attacks the Bandit (d20+5 vs. 12 = 8, MoS = -4) but the Bandit is able to turn it around and knock the Knight off balance (Adv on next attack against Knight).  The Bandit attacks the Knight (d20+2 w/Adv vs. 16 = 22) (Knight armor d20+7 vs. 14 = 15), which leaves him shield-less, but unhurt.

Round 6-

The Knight again attacks the Bandit (d20+5 vs. 12 = 18, MoS = 6) (B2 armor d20+3 vs. 15 = 18) but only manages to land a jab (Dis on B2’s next attack).  The Bandit uses his turn to pick up the Knight’s discarded shield!

Round 7-

The Knight attacks the Bandit (d20+5 vs. 15 = 21, MoS = 6) (B2 armor d20+3 vs. 15 = 4) and despite the shield’s help, is able to run the Bandit through.  It’s over!

Wow, that took an obscenely large number of rounds.  Bandit 2 was way too lucky, I gotta say.

But this helped me realize one glaring flaw in this system, and that is when it’s more likely that less-powerful enemies will hurt themselves rather than hurt their target, their optimal choice is indeed to not attack, which I don’t want.  I mean, I suppose that’s a good time for a flee mechanic to come into play, but even that would mean once the captains (the ones supposedly keeping the weaker ones fighting the heroes) are gone, everyone flees, ergo killing captains is all that matters.  I suppose that’s an option, but it isn’t something I initially planned for.  That and the non-damage effects are a little weird.  Those need some serious work.

I’ll continue to tinker with this idea, but I do feel like it makes for far more tense combats, and more cinematic ones (if I ever manage to figure out how to do the non-damage effects right).