Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Island Traditions and Epic Undertakings

All the Essentials buzz have finally gone down (in our opinion, at least), so it's time to take a good look at the D&D 3PP landscape again. There has been a lot of talk about the State of the GSL, with Neuroglyph's efforts on the matter being of particular interest to us. It's hardly representative of the population as a whole, but so far, it seems that character options are low on the list of things that D&D 4E consumers look for in a 3PP. As our next product, Barangay: Island Traditions primarily gives a class-like option, that revelation was a definitive "aw, crap" moment for us.

Now, I want to be clear on where Nosfecatu Publishing stands when it comes to the whole 3PP industry. Our primary goal is to help spread awareness on Philippine Mythology to RPGs, and D&D 4E is our chosen medium for it. As Filipinos, we believe that our obscure myths will be a good fit in many gaming worlds. As long as we make enough to shoulder what small costs are present in pdf publishing, we'll continue to strive to churn out new products.

Sales for a GSL licensee aren't spectacular, but as long as there is a genuine interest in what we are doing, we'll press on. This brings us back to Barangay: Island Traditions. The tradition system that we have been designing is an option that a player can take to give character classes a thematic link to the world of Kalupaan. The babaylan tradition, for example, grants the normally armor-clad cleric an option to move about more with light armor. After all, the last thing you'd want to do in a world with so many bodies of water is to wear heavy metallic armor.

However, it seems that Barangay fails to catch the interest of D&D 4E fans. Perhaps this can be attributed to DDi's success with the Character Builder: Incorporating third-party material would entail creating the characters by hand again. Many are understandably adamant at the prospect of "going back to the Dark Ages." In contrast, DM-oriented products are generally better-received, as it has a more plug-and-play nature.

But this is all mostly a question of sales figures. To cite a personal example, Asuang: Shapechanging Horrors have done better financially than Tikbalang: Guardians of Kalikasan. However, both have been rather well-received by our buyers. As actual sales are only considered secondary goals for us, this observation means that we will continue to work towards the completion of Barangay. But we'll need to start working on our next product even as the current one is still under development. We still need to shoulder costs, after all.

Now the only question is - What will our fourth product be?

The Slow Death of Epic Tier

I have a dirty secret - I love the epic tier. My first game was in D&D3.5, and as a misguided College student back then, we spent most of our breaks (and some of our class hours) playing in a game that managed to get from level 1 to 22 in one semester. In that time, I read the Epic Level Handbook, felt it lacked something, and looked for alternatives in the form of Dicefreaks and the Immortals Handbook.Sure, very few of our succeeding 3.5 campaigns actually got to epic level, but my interest in designing began with building epic 3.5 monsters. Epic level also gave me my first exposure to 3rd Party Publishing, as in my opinion, 3PP epic monsters are simply better designed than their official counterparts, both mechanically and thematically.

When 4th Edition was announced, one of the reasons of me jumping on the bandwagon was their declaration of making epic levels "core." I put in the quotation marks because in some cases, the 20-level spread of 3.5 was simply stretched to 30 levels for 4E. But this is something that Arcane Springboard discusses better in the article from This is My Game linked above, so I won't expound on that.

After two years, it seems as if epic isn't as heavily supported by WotC as the first two tiers after all. The Monster Vault reportedly has very few epic monsters (mine hasn't arrived yet - a drawback brought about by living in the Philippines). DMG3 has not been, and may never be, announced for release, keeping epic levels from being fully understood by many DMs. Again, Arcane Springboard discusses it better in his article.

But the 4E epic dearth isn't exactly like the 3.5 days. 4E holds the advantage by at least having support at the very beginning of the edition - so on the player side of things, at least, there are many viable and balanced feats, epic destinies, and powers to choose from. The lack of support comes from the DM's side for the most part. An epic DM needs more adventures, more monsters, and perhaps even a 3PP product in the style of an epic DMG. Mike Shea seems to have a working draft of the latter idea already.

In 3.5, 3rd Party Publishers that I admire and respect kept epic alive amidst the lack of support. Similarly, we here at Nosfecatu believe that supporting epic is a worthwhile goal for signatories of the GSL. The building blocks are there - we just need to make epic feel...well, epic again. As such, our fourth product will look into the epic aspects of Philippine Mythology.