AICN TABLETOP: 4E GSL woes!!! And What the Hell is DESOLATION???
Published at: Aug. 9, 2008, 7:59 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
Well, next week is the biggest weekend of the year for gamers. Gencon Indy. For those of you unfamiliar with it think of it as the San Diego Comiccon of gaming. Many of the year's big releases will see their first sales at the tables of gencon. There will be panels, booths to buy stuff in and LOTS of gaming. Sadly I can't make it this year, but a few companies have seen fit to send along some of their releases, and info is beginning to trickle in about some of the announcements.
Right now I'm trying to collect and put together a list of the Gencon giveaways and limited edition items for next weeks column. So if you're part of a company and you've got something cool coming out next week, let me know about it. Drop me an e-mail so I can include you in the list. Okay, so let's get this week started!
D&D 4E GSL Woes
Okay, this stuff is coming in from all over the place. It appears the glory days of 3rd Edition with dozens of different companies putting out scads of original content is a relic of the past. Whether by accident or design, the new GSL (Game System License) the replacement for the 3E OGL (Open gaming License) is incredibly restrictive in that it has a few provisions that when combined together create a legal nightmare of potential Intellectual property loss. Leave it to fucking rules lawyers to get funky when it comes to law interpret...wait a second...
The long and the short of it is that it appears that if you make a book that includes something, say for example stats for a Land Shark, then WotC puts a Land Shark into one of their books and includes it in the GSL, you no lose ownership of your creation. Some people are telling me this is definitely the case while others are saying it COULD happen, but might not be a real concern. Either way between the foot dragging on the OGL/GSL confirmation and this new hiccup, many of the giants of the previous edition have decided to call it quits on d20. At least in 4th edition. Paizo has put their efforts into the fun pathfinder upgrade (which someone described it best as "3.5 cranked to 11") and that book will see its first sales at Gencon next week. Necromancer has apparently backed out of the d20 biz. And now a bunch of the second and third tier d20 companies are quickly moving in to take their place. And at least one of them is playing with fire by putting out books early under fair use laws before switching to the GSL on the starting date everyone else is being held to (October 1st.)
Lord only knows what this is going to do to the industry and what that means for us players. Some of those second and third tier companies were considered that for a reason. Are we going to be inundated with crap, choking the shelves of our FLGS until they refuse to carry it anymore? Or will some cream once again rise to the top as a bunch of out of work freelancers put their pens toward crafting the same quality we saw before, only this time at new studios (or those not actually known for their quality?) We'll find out this October when we no doubt see a flood of books that give us stats for the various monsters, classes and settings not found in the 4E PHB and MM.
Look. I'm not a big fan of offshoot fantasy games that play like D&D, but aren't actually D&D. So for me to like one is actually a big deal. It's not that I think D&D has the market cornered on fantasy, but when you create a world that is virtually identical with the only real difference being your own homebrew dice and stat rules, well...it's a knock off. Pure and simple. BUT, and this is a big BUT, if there is a real, honest to god legitimate reason for it, then I can get behind it. If it's good.
Enter Desolation. Now this is the new book by Greymalkin Designs being released next week at Gencon (which uses the Ubiquity Roleplaying system.) At first glance it isn't abnormally impressive. The art is alright, but nothing really eye-popping. And really, in the world of indie gaming, art can be everything. When you're sitting on a shelf next to something from PAIZO (from which every cover screams PLAY ME NOW) it's hard to get noticed. But Desolation has a lot going for it, most importantly its concept. It's about the end of the world. While not exactly ground breaking, the handling of this material is TOP NOTCH. Imagine if a bunch of D&D players sat around watching Jericho and then followed it up by discussing Thundarr, The Road Warrior and Atlantis. Then they asked the DM to make that world. THAT'S Desolation.
Set in a very stereotypical fantasy world that could easily be Greyhawk or Azeroth, there is very little that you will find unfamiliar. Orcs, elves, gnomes, strange magical beasts all living side by side in a relatively peaceful world with a magnificent enlightened kingdom stretcing far and wide throughout the land. magic rules the day and whatever wars once ravaged the land have since calmed and left the world as it should be. And then it all goes to shit. In one night, some kind of bizarre magical storm whips up and rains all sorts of death and mayhem on the world. Fire rains from the skies, flash blizzards freeze entire towns to ice, people turn to glass and shatter when they fall to the ground, volcanoes erupt, earthquakes split the earth, fire and brimstone, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. The worlds most powerful mages tap into their magic to save their cities and towns only to find the storm in the weave even more tempestuous. 9/10's of the worlds epic level sorcerers are vaporized within the first minute, incinerated from the inside out. Magic items explode or inexplicable shrink decapitating or dismembering its wearers. All hell breaks loose and the world you knew was no more.
You play one of the survivors. Humanity is broken, scattered in small camps fighting for survival. The magic that destroyed all you knew also mutated animals and creatures and released magical beasts long thought extinct from the bowels of the earth. Few trust magic at all anymore, treating most sorcerers like the Colonial era puritans treated witches. There is no law and packs of bandits raid what communities are left for supplies.
Now. Doesn't that sound like fun?
I've seen a number of campaigns like this in the past, but never so richly laid out and wonderfully conceived. They've even included rules on playing through the "Night of Fire." reading the fluff provided with this book is worth the price alone. It's a hell of a well conceived apocalyptic event which leads to a rich delicious world with nothing but possibility. Everything is a ruin. Everything can be dangerous. A shattered city is now an open air dungeon, teeming with mutant creatures and savage beasts just looking to eat. And speaking of eating, there are rules for how much nutrition each animal and creature can provide when properly prepared.
While I'm not a fan of the Ubiquity Roleplaying System they used in this (I really wish they'd waited until October and made this a 4E product) I can fully understand stepping back from D&D. In the post-night of fire era, magic is unbalanced and risky as all hell to use. You could play a spellcaster, but there's also a chance you can melt while casting something funky. And the magic system reflects that. I love the kind of Hyborian limited magic feel there is to this. magic is still powerful, but using it could be the end of you and your party, so tread carefully wizard. And frankly, that kind of concept doesn't play well in the all balance all the time world of 4E. A magic user who hesitates to throw a magic missle every round is playing well below the curve. And in that vein, Desolation isn't exactly about balance. The Ubiquity system puts much less focus on dice and isn't tactically minded at all. It is more for the folks who prefer touching the dice as little as possible.
If you're into alternate gaming systems or are someone running headlong from 4E, this might be something you'll wanna look into. Being a staunch 4E lover, I'm going to try to work out an alternate magic system that mirrors these effects and play this as my next campaign. As a sourcebook for fluff, this is excellent and highly recommended to any gamers that enjoy such things. Especially if you're one of those Non-gamer types who buys the books JUST FOR the fluff. Desolation is for you. hell, what they do with gnomes is the very first time I've been inclined to include those stupid little things into a cmpaign. Desolation makes them pretty damned cool. If you're at Gencon next week, stop by and pick up a copy.
Until next time friends, smoke 'em if ya got 'em.