Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The 5E to OSR Pipeline

It may just be that my perception is biased due to the algorithmic nature of YouTube recommendations, but it does appear as if a lot of 5E players have become more interested in the OSR as of late. 

Again, I know it may just be that having watched one video about turning from 5E to the OSR, the algorithm is recommending more similar content to me. But all of the videos that have been recommended are fairly recent. Most have been made within the past few months, and none more than a year old. 

So, why is this happening? 

Well, for one, it may just be a YouTuber fad. One streamer or vlogger tries out an OSR game, and others feel curious to try it as well. People see one person's idea, and they will copy it. Expect more of these videos to be produced if this is true, but don't expect a huge increase in new OSR converts.

Another possibility is that 5E fatigue has set in. There's a reason WotC recently announced their "One D&D" revision/new edition/whatever it will be. People have explored the possibilities of 5E, and one more splat book of new options is not gonna hold their attention much longer. Part of this is baked into the design of 5E, which like 3E and 4E, was designed as a game of system mechanics exploration more than imaginary exploration within the game world. That gives it a limited (intentionally so?) lifespan with the players. 

Final possibility? It's not a trend at all. There are a handful of people who have done this, and YT is just showing me all of the small number of videos like this. In a week, I won't be seeing any more because I'll have sampled all there is to sample.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that there is actually a trend.

Not every one of the videos I've watched has been positive towards the OSR games they've tried, but the majority have been. And these videos have spanned the gammut from playing the actual old editions from TSR to all the various retroclones (well, OSRIC, LL, OSE, S&W anyway), and OSR adjacent games like Black Hack and Dungeon World. 

Despite the bad reputation of THAC0, or Vancian casting, or high lethality, the fact that most of the older editions and their retro-clones encourage exploration of the game space more than exploration of the system mechanics is, I think, the reason why people are engaging with these rules again. That's what happened with me and a lot of other people 15 years or so ago. 

And then there are the folks that have been playing the old editions all along, and still are having fun with them. And new folks are joining these games, and finding out that you don't need a bunch of fiddly numbers on your character sheet, or kewl nu powrz! at ever level to have fun. 

I'm not gonna make a prediction that One D&D will flop. I'm sure there are vastly more people willing to take whatever WotC will give them. And it looks like WotC is gonna try for more of a subscription model rather than a purchase model of sales, at least for their online tools, this time. So they'll probably secure a decent revenue stream with their new version of the game. 

But I will say that the OSR is far from dead. I'd expect a lot of these 5E converts to be coming up with their own retro clones and modifications to the game and releasing them in the next few years! Even if it is just a handful of people splitting off from the 5E community (or straddling both), there's new blood in the OSR. And they will run (and create) games that attract even more people.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Content coming soon

Seems like I've only been posting about the TV shows and movies I've watched recently. Well, rest assured, I am still working on my campaigns (both TS&R Jade and d6 Star Wars), and I have stuff to say about games coming up soon. 

It's just that things like grading and paper publishing need to be the priority right now. Media reviews are generally easier than interesting posts about RPGs. So probably a few more of those coming up soon (second half of Andor season 1, Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, been watching Futurama with my younger boy now and then, finally watched Netflix's Space Force with my older son...).

Monday, November 14, 2022

Movie Review - Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Went and saw Wakanda Forever yesterday with the family. Here's a spoiler free review. 

For the parents searching Google: Are there curse words in this movie? A few. Nothing too salty. No F-bombs that I remember. Fewer swears than in, say, Black Widow. 

Again with this movie, Marvel is allowing the director to go their own way with a film. Phase 4 has been full of various attempts to shake up the formula. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. This one is in some ways a cookie cutter super hero movie, but it does explore a consistent theme that makes the movie less of an exciting 2.5 hour roller coaster, and more of a thoughtful examination of the genre. Not too deep, mind you, but deeper than most MCU movies to date. 

Obviously, with the real world death of actor Chadwick Boseman, they had to make some pretty big changes in this movie, and I think that may have actually worked in the movie's favor. It's a tribute to a lost friend, and that allowed them to look into how the loss of T'Challa in-universe affects the various characters, and avoid the big messy CGI brouhaha at the end of most MCU films. 

So what is the movie about? Obviously, it's about loss, grief, and revenge. While Wakanda is trying to mourn T'Challa, a machine invented by Riri Williams allows people to search for vibranium underseas, and they accidentally discover Talokan, secret undersea home of Namor (which is, like Wakanda, a vibranium-based culture). The US blames Wakanda for the loss of the expedition. Namor blames Wakanda for exposing the world to vibranium. Three-way conflict ensues, but really, for the most part it's just Wakanda vs Talokan. 

While the plot is a fairly typical comic book conflict, and the resolution is a fairly typical comic book plot resolution, along the way we get to explore the pain suffered by the various characters. Queen Ramonda, Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia all have very different ways of dealing with their grief. Namor also has his demons that haunt him, and we get to explore those as well, although not as deeply as with the various Wakandan characters. And while Namorita and Attuma have speaking parts, they get no character development. Namor is the only Talokanian (?) to get an arc. 

There are some connections to upcoming projects from Marvel. Obviously Riri Williams is introduced, which will lead into her own Iron Heart show, and most likely the upcoming Armor Wars movie. And various goings on with CIA agent Everett Ross connect to the upcoming Thunderbolts. I was hoping there would be a tease for Ant-Man Quantumania in the post credits, but all we get is a bit of revelation for one character's motives in the film that were a bit unclear, plus some hints about future Black Panther projects. Which is fine, but part of the fun of the MCU has always for me been the interconnections, and the teases for the next project up on the roster. 

So, that's what the movie is like. How did I like it? I actually enjoyed it. It's not as exciting as a typical action movie, but I liked how it did try to explore character deeper than "I have daddy issues" or "I want to prove myself" like most MCU movies. And the grief leading to revenge theme just felt weightier than in previous MCU movies. I'd definitely say I enjoyed this more than Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness or Thor: Love and Thunder. But no, it didn't knock Weird: The Al Yankovic Story off my top spot for the year. 

Also, my wife was really unhappy with the movie. She wanted some big exciting action movie stuff, and didn't get it. She said it was boring. My older son also wasn't so impressed with it. My younger son can't sit through a movie these days anyway (he has no attention span, so we're trying to detox him from gaming/YouTube, but it takes time). My wife even said she's done going to see these movies in the theater. She'll wait until they come out on Disney+. 

So, a movie that's not for everyone. It doesn't follow the MCU cookie-cutter formula. I think that's its strength, my family thought that was a weakness. I think it's a good movie, better than the other MCU movies of 2022, but my family didn't. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Movie Reviews - Weird: The Al Yankovic Story; Black Adam

My sons and I watched Weird: The Al Yankovic Story over the weekend. I've got to say, it was probably my favorite movie I've seen this year. It's a (relatively) low budget parody of the musician bio-pic (what else for Weird Al?), and it's really spot on with the satire and parody elements. It felt a lot like the screwball parody comedies of the 80s that don't seem to get made anymore. It's mocking the genre, and playing with the facts to conform to the tropes, but it does so with an earnestness and a feeling that not only is the subject matter of the musical artist being honored, it's also honoring the genre through mocking emulation. In other words, it's like This is Spinal Tap mixed with Airplane! in feel. Again, to me this seems completely appropriate to a "bio-pic" for Weird Al.

Obligatory Note: is there cursing in this movie? Not a whole lot. Similar to Al's music, it's family friendly. The "sex" scene with Al & Madonna is also nothing I didn't feel uncomfortable with my 8 year old watching. 

I grew up listening to Weird Al, and actually still have a fair amount of his songs on the USB thumb drive in my car. Well, on the rock USB. I've got two more with blues and classical/soundtracks respectively. I'm one of those people that when I hear the original version of a song Al parodied, I'm just as likely to be singing the Al version lyrics in my head as the original's, even if I really like the original as well. And my older boy especially really liked listening to Weird Al's songs when he was younger (he's just in general not really in to music these days). 

Being a fan, I did know a fair amount of biographical detail about Weird Al before the movie started, so I could tell from the beginning that they'd nearly completely ditched reality for the story they wanted to tell. Dr. Demento helps Al get known. Pretty much everything else in the story is made up to serve the comedy, and to mock the bio-pic genre. And it is on point! 

Then there are all the cameos, which are a double layer of fun. I didn't recognize every pop culture figure from the 80s, but I got most of them. And I didn't recognize all of the comedians and actors portraying them, but I got enough of them to get in on the joke. Conan O'Brien as Andy Warhol. Jack Black as Wolfman Jack. Even though they didn't know most of the 80s figures (they knew Pee Wee Herman, a few others), seeing Devo (in the red hats), Divine, and all these crazy characters was fun for them. And my sons even picked out David Dastmalchian (from the Ant-Man movies) before I did, but I instantly knew that he was portraying John Deacon of Queen when he stepped on screen! 

I mentioned that I think this is probably my favorite movie of the year so far (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens later this week, and it looks to be a bit better than some of the recent MCU fare. We'll see if it can top this film!). Part of it is the nostalgia, for sure. The movie definitely is made to play on that tension between 70s/80s parents an children, plus all of the pop culture that Weird Al was parodying in his music. Part of it is the performances of Daniel Radcliff, Rainn Wilson, and Evan Rachel Wood (among others) and the clever scripting that makes plot holes integral to the comedy. Part of it is just that feel, I mentioned above, that the movie loves the source material that it's making fun of, and that the movie does to other movies exactly what Weird Al songs do to other songs. It's just a lot of fun.


Okay, I saw this move over a week ago now, but was just too busy to write about it. On to Black Adam.

This will be a shorter review, and contains a few spoilers. 

Are There Curse Words? More than in Weird, but not excessive.

Black Adam is the latest of the DCEU movies. Overall, I've not been impressed by most of these. SHAZAM has been the best of the ones I've seen (I still haven't seen either of the Suicide Squad movies or the Harley Quinn movie, or Wonder Woman 1984, or The Batman...if that last one counts?). But of the DCEU movies that I have seen, SHAZAM has been the best of the bunch. 

Compared to other DCEU movies, this one wasn't bad. But compared to super hero movies in general, or action movies as a whole, it was just so-so. My older son really liked it, but I found it just a little bit lacking. 

There are plenty of cool action scenes, and it does tell a decent enough story, but there's something just a little too cookie cutter about it. Dwayne The Rock Johnson isn't an astounding actor, but he does have charisma. It was lacking in this movie, though. Teth Adam is just this scowling, brooding, force of nature. I wasn't invested in his story. The family that brings him back to life and wants him to protect their nation of Kandar were developed with all the beats that should elicit empathy and emotional response, but by the third act of the movie the story had nearly forgotten them. The Justice Society is there for murky reasons. I think Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge are great actors, and made me invested in the stories of Hawkman and Dr. Fate, despite the flimsy plot devices that get them into the story. On the other hand, the other two JSA members, Atom Smasher and Cyclone, were just kinda there for sometimes effective, sometimes not very effective comedy relief, plus an undeveloped romance subplot. 

Basically, this movie seems to want to be two things at once, and fails in the combination. Is Teth Adam the hero of Kandar? Is he the villain to the JSA? He's both at the same time, and things just get murky because of it. It's very similar to my critique of the Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern movie from many years ago. This is better executed than Green Lantern, but it still feels like two incompatible movies smushed into one. It would have been better if they'd stuck to Kandar family awakens Teth Adam to help them fight Intergang to free their country and stop the demon guy, OR it was about Teth Adam awakening, running amok, and the JSA stepping in to battle him until they realize he's not evil and they team up to fight demon guy. 

It could have been better, but it's still better than Batman v. Superman, or either version of Justice League!

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Fetch Quests and Delivery Quests Suck

Why are fetch quests and delivery quests so popular in games? I understand to a degree why video games use them, since they primarily end up being side quests in that format. But in RPGs, they are pretty lame. I think I mentioned that I joined a PbP game of the 5E adventure Storm King's Thunder. And we're in the middle of a boring delivery quest right now. It's dragging on and on since it's PbP and takes weeks to get through an encounter. Someone spoiled the adventure for me, at least partially, and from what I heard, there are more dumb fetch/delivery quests waiting. I'm considering dropping out of that game.

And the 2E game I just joined that I mentioned in the previous post just got underway with all of our PCs meeting in a tavern with an NPC who wants us to be errand boys. Joy.

I figured that this was not a good way to manage a game session many years ago. In my first 3E campaign back in 2000, one of the adventures was based off of a story in Welsh mythology where the hero had to visit increasingly older and wiser creatures to learn the knowledge he sought. When I translated it into a D&D adventure, it ended up being a series of magical fetch quests for weirdo NPCs. And my players were fine with the first round, but when they found out there was a second, and then third round, they were not too happy. After the game, we discussed what I'd hoped for, and what they experienced in the game. I've not used the fetch quest or delivery quest since then in D&D thanks to their feedback. 

Players are gathering around to play D&D, or any other RPG, because they want to vicariously experience adventure through their character's experiences. Having an NPC just tell them, "Bring me back the MacGuffin and I will reward you." or "Take this MacGuffin to NPC B and they will reward you." is not very adventurous. Well, it can be adventurous if done well, but often it's just tedious. And if not done well, it can be very railroady.

So, what to do instead? 

First of all, it's perfectly fine for NPCs to want certain things, and even to offer rewards if the PCs can bring them those things. But that should just be one of many possible hooks or rumors that might drive PC actions. Whatever the MacGuffin is, it should not be something vital. It should not be something demanded of the PCs (an exception is when geas or quest spells get used, more on that below). Similarly, if an NPC wants something taken from here to there, why force the PCs to do it? Unless it's in some dangerous or difficult place to reach, why should a bunch of treasure seeking ne'er-do-wells or even glory seeking would-be-heroes waste their time playing Fedex?

The NPC makes it known that they would like to have X, or have X taken somewhere. Maybe they even say what the reward will be. That's a rumor you can introduce to the players when in the home town. If they follow up, they may contact the NPC for more information, and accept the job if they feel like it. If not, no big deal. There are other rumors or hooks for them to follow. And if they come across the item of a fetch quest, intentionally or by chance, and then offer it to the NPC, they can claim the reward. Of course, they should always have the option to just ignore the MacGuffin, or even keep it for themselves. Similarly, the PCs should be free to abscond with the MacGuffin of a delivery quest if they so choose, or just simply ignore the whole affair and find something more interesting or challenging to do.

Now, there will be times when PCs end up under [often magical] compulsion. This may be due to a geas or quest spell, as mentioned previously, or something they agree to as payment for a service (removal of a curse or to have a slain companion raised, for example). But this should happen as a consequence of the PCs' actions and choices. If they try to rob the Temple of Golden Pigs, and the High Hogg's men catch them, the High Hogg may slap a quest spell on them as punishment. That's fair. It's the consequence of their failure. 

Even then, the quest/geas spells allow you to ignore the compulsion, accept a penalty, and try to find a way to remove that magical compulsion somewhere else. And if it's not a magical compulsion, and the PCs are willing to accept the legal or social consequences of their actions (possible arrest or being labelled as outlaws, refusal of further services by the Temple of Golden Pigs, etc.), again there is nothing forcing them to finish the fetch quest. 

And in cases where the PCs willingly accept a fetch or delivery quest, it had better be worth the players' time. A trip from village A to village B, maybe with a planned encounter or two on the way, is not so exciting. Having to find an object in a remote, dangerous, or magical environment (dungeon, cursed mountain, other plane of existence, etc.), or deliver the object to a similarly hard to reach place, is a good step to making the quest more interesting. But even then, what's in it for the PCs? 

In my West Marches game, there were NPCs who wanted certain things. There were sometimes rumors about these things, and the players followed them up from time to time. But they were just rumors I threw out there, that could lead them to new areas of the Marches, or else suggested things they could do, but hadn't considered on their own, in areas they'd already explored. I had one NPC who would occasionally pop up in town seeking new monsters for his menagerie. A few times the PCs followed up on this, trying to hunt down that type of monster, capture one or more, and bring them back to town. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they failed, and sometimes they just gave up because they found something more interesting. And I was fine with all of that. I could always wait a few months then reintroduce Throckmorton P. Ruddygore, with a new request for the capture of a new type of monster in a different area of the Marches. 

Similarly, in my Star Wars game, the PCs wanted a faster hyperdrive for their ship. So I determined that there were three places to get one on the Outer Rim planet they were based on. Two NPCs would sell them outright, or would reduce the cost if the PCs would help in some way. A third wanted safe passage off the planet (he was wanted) and would exchange the hyperdrive for help escaping. In this case, the idea of improving the hyperdrive was 100% a player-driven goal. And if they'd pooled their money, or gone on some other adventure to make up what they lacked, they could have just purchased a hyperdrive without any hassle. They also had three different places to find one, and if they had tried to leverage one against the others, they could have possibly gotten the discount without the "quest." 

In the end, they ended up taking on the quest of the first merchant they talked to, who wanted them to salvage an AT-AT walker for spare parts. And of course, there were other interested parties that the PCs had to deal with while doing so. In the end, it was challenging and fun for the players, and they managed, through their own initiative and effort, to get the reward they wanted. 

So please, don't start an adventure -- and definitely don't start the entire campaign -- by forcing the players to go on some boring fetch quest or delivery quest for an NPC in order to "advance the story." Use NPC desires as potential motivators of action, but leave it up to the PCs to follow up on that or not, and make sure that if they do follow up, there is adventure and challenge along the path.