Feb 17, 2012

DM Tools: Maps, Maps, Maps

In previous posts, I've mentioned how much I like and use minis, and various other props at my gaming table. Along with all those props are the battlefields they stand on.

I currently use a number of different options depending on the need.

First and foremost is my trusty erasable battle mat. There are plenty to choose from, but I tend to like Flip-Mats from Paizo. These mats allow you to use dry erase, wet erase, and (according their literature), even permanent marker and still remove it when you are done.

On side of the Flip-Mats usually has a specific scene, like a forest crossing, a dungeon, or a town square, while the other side is sometimes a simple color pattern, like dark gray for the dungeon stone, like gray for paved city, or green for forest. Since I'm in the middle of running a lengthy dungeon crawl, I have the handy dark gray mat in the DM kit.

The nice part about the scene specific side of the battle mat is that there is usually enough detail to get any DM's mind racing with great adventure ideas. In fact, I was looking at one of their mats the other night, and starting to craft the beginning of an adventure around it.

Recently Paizo have been tying their battle map products into their Adventure Path modules, so for a given map, there may be an existing scenario already available for it.

Beside Paizo, there are a few other companies creating maps and map products. Wizards of the Coast have been including maps in most of their 4e modules, as well as a few pre-4e products. In addition, they've started releasing Map Packs, which are collections of maps, mostly from out of print products (older modules, as well as maps from their miniatures line), along with two new maps in each set. The only downside to their maps are that you can't draw on them, even with erasable markers.

Gale Force Nine is another major company producing battle maps. They have a license with WotC wherein they have re-released some of WotC's older maps, but on vinyl, allowing you to use dry erase markers. In addition to the reprints, they also have original maps covering a variety of different locations, from market square, abandoned town, to evil temple.

All of these companies make great products that I've used again and again in my games. Check them out, I'm sure you'll find something you can use too!

Next time, I'll look at some other map products, like tiles and 3-D terrain.

Feb 9, 2012

Lost Art of D&D

This isn't going to be a post about how the subtleties of being a really good DM, or player, have vanished in the modern day. No, this post is actually about the lost art of D&D. 

Literally.

It turns out that back in the early days of TSR, when they were developing and designing all those great classic books, the company had a policy of not returning art originals back to the artists.

Compounding the issue, at some point TSR threw away classic art from a number of highly revered books and modules. But there is the next best thing.

Artists Jeff Dee and Diesel LaForce are currently organizing Kickstarter campaigns to recreate art from various books, included the 1e version of Deities and Demigods.

If you're interested, here are links to their respective pages where you can sign up to be a patron and get some nifty items for your contributions that would make great art for your gaming room!

Jeff Dee Kickstarter page.

Diesel LaForce Kickstarter page.

Feb 3, 2012

Dragonlance: One Story to Rule Them All?

In his recent Dragon magazine editorial, Chris Perkins talks about many of WotC's older campaign settings. In particular he sites the Dragonlance Chronicles as the "most iconic D&D story". However, he then goes on to assert that the Dragonlance setting is hamstrung by that fact that it only has one story to tell (the aforementioned Chronicles).

I disagree wholeheartedly with Mr. Perkins' viewpoint. Dragonlance supported a huge number of books and even today there are many fans still wishing for more content about this world.

Furthermore, Mr. Perkins asserts that after the world spanning War of the Lance storyline, everything else feels subpar. I would ask then, based on that same premise, if the Forgotten Realms were rendered moot after their epic world spanning Avatar Trilogy, or Horde Invasion?

Where he sees the end of story potential in the Dragonlance setting with the War of the Lance, I would say that the War opened up vast areas for epic stories focusing on:
  • The return of the Gods and the reestablishment of their churches throughout the continent.
  • The return of dragons of all colors and alignments and the awe, fear and mistrust they create.
  • The rise of new nations and new political intrigues.
  • Rebuilding after the epic war
That last bullet point, I should point out is also one of the very corner stones of WotC's last fully developed campaign setting, Eberron. Based on the above points, I therefore can't subscribe to Mr. Perkins' notion.

There is one point where I actually agree with Chris Perkins; the idea that the Dragonlance setting was hamstrung, not by story potential as he believes, but rather the way it was handled by TSR (and later WotC).

For instance, while the Forgotten Realms debuted with a lavish box set, with large maps and plenty of world detail, Dragonlance didn't get an official source book until three years after it debuted. And even then, much of the book was repackaged information from the original module and novel series as well as articles from Dragon magazine.

Later, rather than build out more details about the setting, like the Realms was doing through the FR series of sourcebooks, TSR abandoned the well known Ansalon continent in lieu of Taladas, a hitherto unknown continent that had minimal connections to the lands, people and stories that were the basis of all previous Dragonlance material (in today's vocabulary, we might call this a "reboot"). At the same time the Forgotten Realms was being further expanded with the Hordelands and Kara-Tur settings.

Two years later, in 1992, TSR would go back to Ansalon with the release of the Tales of the Lance box set. This was followed up with another box set and a handful of modules (again, including a pair of mini-module anthologies). But this was short lived, by 1993 TSR stopped developing any material for the setting outside the successful novel line.

In 1996, after the much heralded return of Weis and Hickman to the Dragonlance setting and the release of their new novel, Dragons of Summer Flame, rather than relaunch the setting using the AD&D rules, instead the decision was made to revive the setting, but now with a completely new set of game mechanics; the diceless, card-based SAGA system.

While the SAGA system still has a small but loyal fan base, most D&D gamers didn't take to the new rules engine. This was unfortunate as a good deal of content was developed for the setting under the SAGA rules. I strongly believe that if the same material had been developed with the D&D rules, it would have been much more acceptable to the role playing fans that were already invested in the D&D mechanics, and not a new unproven diceless game.

When 3e arrived, Dragonlance was one of the many "orphaned" settings, but a few years later, when 3.5 was released, WotC entered into an agreement with Margaret Weis to allow her company to develop 3.5 content for the setting. And develop they did, releasing a number of detailed sourcebooks (the likes the setting hadn't ever really had) covering the most popular time periods from various novels, as well as books focusing on the most popular character classes, like mages, clerics, and Knights of Solomnia.

And for a couple of years everything seemed to be going great... until WotC pulled all their license deals, and basically closed ranks prior to the release of 4e.

As you can see from the above time line, there are many different places where I think TSR, and later WotC, mishandled the property, including:
  • Failure to further develop the setting with details on the lands, cities, and peoples not covered in novels.
  • Failure to explore the exciting logical themes that came out of the War of the Lance (as mentioned above).
  • The decision to reboot the franchise with the Taladas continent to the exclusion of new game material for Ansalon.
  • Later, the decision to relaunch the game using the SAGA rules.
  • And lastly, not allowing the setting to advance to 4e either in house, via article continent in Dragon and Dungeon magazine, or through a third party license.
In conclusion, I think there was (and still is) great untapped potential in the Dragonlance setting, but a failure to nurture it properly ultimately lead to its marginalization, not any inherent deficiency in the setting.