This is Audio EXP for the 19th of June 2021, and the title of this episode is “Should this have been a secret D&D project?”
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #101]
How things can change. Last week’s podcast, which was the 100th episode of Geek Native’s highlight show, talked about whether the two D&D leaks, Strixhaven and Witchlight, were that much of a leak.
The notion was two-fold. Firstly, the Amazon listings’ timing revealed two of the three forthcoming D&D books had to happen to keep a timetable that Wizards of the Coast were managing. Secondly, the books’ descriptions were unusual in that they pointed D&D fans away from WotC owned media and bought media and the Comcast/G4 partnership.
Whether you agree with the media strategy of outsourcing D&D Live, it’s an indisputable fact that those signposts to the event were there in place for the so-called leak.
So, last week, we talked as if WotC had a plan.
It started okay. D&D Studio boss Ray Winninger let know that there was still one more book to come and that Wizards of the Coast were exploring all-new physical formats.
And maybe they do, but it’s not gone well this week.
All new formats would be one bold promise, but all new physical formats set quite a high bar. So what on Earth could they be? I wrote a piece to speculate.
Firstly, and perhaps the least important, is a guess on what the third book could be. Many people are guessing the Draconomicon as an old but significant and non-setting book that might well sell.
As a hail Mary, on the format, I mentioned AR books in part because videos are showing the cool technology but also because D&D books, which you handhold in your hands and yet use virtual tabletop integration with, seems like a sweet spot for Hasbro to own.
Then, to move to safety, I suggested new books such as the pretty hardback A5s that we are getting some of the bolder challenger studios.
Or perhaps a subscription model. If you’re a long time listener, you know my mind often goes there. It’s all about predictable revenue streams.
I also talked about a physical, virtual tabletop. That sounds like a contradiction in terms but imagine a hardware device that lays on your tabletop and which, at the very least, shows virtual maps on the flat screen. That enables those profitable physical minis Hasbro will want to sell, remote play and a marketplace. I guess it’s also augmented reality of a sort.
At about the same time, Pokemon Go makers Niantic announced a new game. They’re making an augmented reality game called Transformers: Heavy Metal. That’s a Hasbro license.
If you know Ingress or Pokemon Go then you’ll get the idea. You get up and walk to a place to have a mini screen-tapping adventure there.
I couldn’t, but help speculate D&D would make a more complex but potentially far more addictive, therefore lucrative, AR game in this model. Imagine walking up to hidden dungeon entrances in your hometown and battling the guardians or controlling the area at the expense of a rival guild.
Also, at about the same time, Wizards of the Coast supremo Chris Cocks reminded the trade press that the future of D&D was digital and many more computer games are coming. Of course, this is old news to Geek Native listeners, but the timing is important.
Then, the final piece snaps into place.
Wizards of the Coast had used social media to push a survey. Of course, they’ve done this before, and when they said “help shape the future of Dungeons & Dragons”, it looked like the usual marketing hyperbole.
However, some people answering the survey – and it looks like people who spent the most money – got invited into a secret section.
Two things happened. People objected to the language that was pretty threatening and promised repercussions if people leaked the sensitive parts. Since that threat seemed to be made before anyone had to promise to keep the secrets, it hit social media. That’s how we knew there was a secret project underway.
Then, as you can expect, despite those threats – perhaps because of them – people leaked what was in the secret part. Now, I didn’t qualify, so I can’t confirm any of this with my own experiences, but two things seem clear; WotC are considering a subscription model, and they have a virtual tabletop to show people.
It remains to be seen how far off my own speculations about subscriptions and whether a physical, the virtual tabletop is the innovative piece that links Chris Cocks’ “the future is D&D” with Winninger’s “never seen before physical format” comment. Nevertheless, Hasbro is one of the few companies in a position of power to try. And, if they don’t, start-ups are moving into space anyway.
On Geek Native there’s now an unofficial poll. If you missed the official survey or not, please take part.
The headline question is this; would you buy your D&D books all over again for an official virtual tabletop?
Let me explain. Many people have bought D&D Beyond books because that was the digital format promoted by Wizards, but that’s not a Hasbro company and not yet a virtual tabletop.
People may also have bought Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds official D&D because they are virtual tabletops and have the integrated ruleset.
However, to integrate with a new Wizards of the Coast VTT, then you may also need WotC virtual tabletop compatible digital assets – perhaps on subscription. That might mean rebuying your books.
It’s early days, but the stats are public in the survey, and I can tell you that most people think it’s a good idea for Wizards of the Coast to have an official virtual tabletop, but most people have no plans on buying D&D 5e all over again.
So, that naturally leads to the question; should this be a D&D 6e project?
In the survey, most listeners think not, but it’s early days, and just a few votes can change the shape of the results, so please share it around and take part. You’ll find the link via the shownotes.
Now, there’s absolutely a tabletop RPG that Hasbro is making sweeping changes to and, as a result, being removed from the marketplace.
That game is HeroQuest.
There have been two HeroQuests in the recent past, one a board game and a roleplaying game by Chaosium. Chaosium ended up controlling all the trademarks through cleverness and patience, so when big-budget Hasbro wanted to bring the HeroQuest board game back via very successful crowdfunding, they had to cut a deal.
Chaosium sold the rights and announced their HeroQuest would rebrand to QuestWorlds.
The time for action on that promise is coming up, and in about a month, the old HeroQuest products will vanish. So if you want an RPG from Chaosium that says HeroQuest then you need to buy them now. If not, you can get them later when they’re called QuestWorlds.
Since we’re in the “old RPG and legal use of name” space, let’s talk about Spelljammer: Adventures in Space.
Spelljammer is absolutely a candidate for one of the old D&D settings that Wizards of the Coast are looking at bringing back.
However, Spelljammer: Adventures in Space is a fan-made conversion and asserts it is within Hasbro’s fan policy.
I blogged about it this week, and it’s been a popular thing to talk about on Twitter. There’s clearly an appetite for the game. In this case, I think the fan-made conversion does very well, and it’s a free download.
Furthermore, there’s a Discord for the game to go chill, chat, and ask questions worth checking out.
Geek Native’s own Discord is ticking on too, I’ve not been banging the drum, but new members are coming in at a slow and steady pace nevertheless. You’ll find more trailers and competitions there.
It’s worth talking Twilight: 2000 while we’re here discussing old/new games.
You can now buy Twilight: 2000 version 1 as a download good quality scan of the 1984 original. It’s a game with some hardcore fans, and which was set in the alternative year 2000 after the Twilight War went nuclear.
In the RPG, you’re now ex-military trying to survive the world that was once central Europe.
You can buy version one, or as of this week, you can pre-order Twilight: 2000 from Free League Publishing.
The successful Swedish studio ran an awesome Kickstarter for the game. I saw lots of hype and enthusiasm for the game, and the pre-order bundle looks so physical and well-produced I’m sure people will be eager to get their gaming mits on it.
I had time this week, surprisingly, to check out two small, new and interesting RPGs.
There’s Wendi Y’s Marvelous Mutations & Merry Musicians!.
The RPG is set after the end of the world when war is forgotten, but danger is not. It’s when civilization is rebuilding, and yet all sorts of mutants crawl the wastelands.
Live music is cherished, and you’ll play a mutant musician using the rule “Do whatever you want and deal with the consequences”.
In terms of game mechanics, those consequences are tags for your character sheet.
It’s a Name Your Price download from Itch.io and looks fresh and exciting. Pages are like art.
Guy Sclanders of How to be a Great Game Master also has a new game out via Kickstarter. It’s called Bounty Hunter and it doesn’t use dice.
Dropping the dice in favour of a points system is dramatic. It turns the RPG into something of an action economy, where planning is rewarded, and the fickle whims of fate can do very little about it.
The stated goal of the Kickstarter for Bounty Hunter was to create the easiest tabletop RPG ever. It’s not, but it’s pretty easy.
Bounty Hunter has rules for spaceships. I think, straightaway, that means it would never be the most straightforward game, but I enjoy have this rock sold approach to space in my collection. It’s not unusual at all for a sci-fi RPG not to have spaceship or space combat rules at all. Bounty Hunter gives me a system that can go anywhere, but it doesn’t need or care about the game engine you might use outside the battle.
I also had a chat with Chamomile of Chamomile Has Adventures this week and was pretty impressed.
The name has been popping up on my Kickstarter radar for a while, and there’s a reason for that. Chamomile is doing 12 Kickstarters in 12 months. So far, they’re all been successful and becoming even more successful as the news spreads.
So far, each project is delivered pretty much on schedule, and Kickstarter should be happy that there’s no dangerous overlap between promises being offered and promises not yet fulfilled.
We talked about the Kickstarter for Thaemins Guide to Gods and Miracles, a 5e zine, and found out that the next one will be Celawyn’s Guide to Wilderness and Fey. Probably. The trick to this success, or some of it, is to be flexible.
The free to download Pathfinder Arena rules are a contrast, but not in a negative way.
This is a Pathfinder competitive skirmish game that Paizo is making with an Italian company called Giochi. Your heroes battle in the arena, but not directly, by summoning monsters, and this turns it into a miniature game proposition.
I think we first heard about it in October 2020, and while the draft rules are available for it now, links in the usual place, the crowdfunding campaign for it has not yet started. They’ve not even announced a platform for it, but by raising that as a thing that still needs to be decided, it might not be Kickstarter.
The stars aligned this week as well, and I was able to publish the RPG Publisher Spotlight on Samurai Sheepdog ahead of the Friday newsletter.
They’ve been making stuff for Pathfinder, but not exclusively so, and they’re seeing positive signs with the pickup Pathfinder 2e.
You may know Samurai Sheepdog as a different name, although the two companies are separate. Do you remember Mystic Eye Games?
They date back to the d20 era; that’s the rule system D&D 3 and 3.5 used and a pre-Kickstarter time in which publishers published whatever they wanted. It happened en mass and weirdly, despite the challenges, with much less filtering because there wasn’t that pledge target that so many would-be efforts face today.
Mystic Eye Games was part of that and stood out by pushing in new directions while all the while not reinventing the wheel and taking sensible sized steps to get there.
I often wonder what happened. Now, for legal reasons, the Samurai Sheepdog article skirts around those. The legal reasons are my own; I don’t like to push particular doors!
We’re told that Mystic Eye Games closed after problems with a distributor. When I hear of distribution problems from that time, I think of a company called Osseum. Chris Pramas of Green Ronin once told me that Osseum stole $100,000 from them.
Mystic Eye Games, it reads, had the worst of luck with logistics and the companies that provide them.
I think the word “Samurai” is perhaps fitting for the new company as it gives me images of fighters with honour, although I know historically it was more complicated than that.
As a reminder, the RPG Publisher Spotlight is a monthly poll that Patreons can vote on, and the candidates for July are live on the site now. So become a Patreon and vote for your favourite. It’s a way to help small creators.
Geek Native is not the only place to support small publishers, though. For example, in a mid-month fandom events calendar update, one which mentions the Renegade Con Virtual Special Edition, I call out Small Press Day 2021.
That event has been confirmed for the 14th of August, and while we’re waiting on the details, it’s a chance to support comic book creators, authors and the wider creative publishing industry.
Bundles, I hope, also support the industry. They’re a chance for smaller publishers to get some limelight on a more extensive marketplace. So, let’s take at four bundles that slid onto the radar this week.
Bloat Games’ Dark Places & Demogorgons is in the Bundle of Holding, along with Vigilante City. I’ve played neither but heard good things about both.
Also worth noting is that the recent Kickstarter Survive This! is included, and like the others, it’s a game about surviving 80-style horror.
Another offering in the Bundle of Holding is Black Scrolls map-titles. Now, these are high-quality files, and if you go for the full collection, you’ll need 4.5 gigabytes of memory to store them all.
I must admit, I hope this is partly due to the volume of maps, not just the definition of files, because I’m sure many VTTs have upload size limits.
Also, threatening to eat your hard drive space is a worthy Humble Bundle from Games Aid and a group of British computer games publishers. The first game is just 70p.
Lastly, and in determined hope that the convention scene will return, Humble also has the Return of the Cosplay collection. These are surely all the cosplay books you need to reach the next level.
On that note, let’s wrap there. Keep safe, stay in costume, and we’ll see you next week.
What are your thoughts? Strike up a discussion and leave a comment below.