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Free Quick-Start D&D Rules and Adventure from WotC

posted Thursday, April 30th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
Fourth EditionNews, Reviews & Culture

Wizards of the Coast have released D&D Test Drive, a free get-started downloaded kit for Dungeons & Dragons fourth edition. The kit consists of three parts: a set of Quick Start rules, a free copy of published adventure Keep on the Shadowfell, and a version of the D&D Character Builder limited to level 1-3 characters.

The D&D 4th edition Quick Start Rules is a 27-page PDF covering the basics of gameplay. I’m genuinely impressed; the booklet is refreshingly concise and manages to explain most of D&D’s gameplay extremely well in only fifteen pages. Players new to D&D or to this edition of the game should read this booklet first. Six pre-generated characters are included.

Previously released in hardback, Keep on the Shadowfell is an adventure for D&D fourth edition covering levels one to three. Experienced players may find this kobold-slaying dungeon crawl cliché and uninspired, but as a free introductory adventure it’s not bad. Some tweaks and improvements have been made since the original release.

I haven’t used the D&D Insider Character Builder myself, but several of my players swear by it. It’s a Windows application to help character generation and levelling, which you can use to level up the pre-generated characters or create new ones. The free version works up to level 3, after which you’ll need to subscribe to Wizards’ D&D Insider service if you want to level a character up higher.

If you already own the D&D fourth edition rulebooks, this is an opportunity to get a free copy of Keep on the Shadowfell and a neat booklet you can distribute to online players or use to introduce new people to the game. If you’re not yet a 4E player, this is a free way to give the game a test-drive.

Five Ways To Speed Up Combat

posted Tuesday, April 14th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceFourth EditionThird Edition

Lets face it, turn-based combat can be slow. However long you spend taking your turn, you’re waiting three or four times as long for the next one. Here is a list of game-hastening guidelines I recommend every DM issues to their players.

Announce end of turn

When you’re finished your turn, announce “turn end” or “that’s my turn over”. This saves time and avoids confusion. In particular it lets the next player know that you won’t interrupt his turn with an “also”, such as “Also, I want to make a move action” or “Also, I want to draw a weapon as a free action”.

Take your turn immediately unless interrupted

As soon as the player directly before you in initiative announces “end turn”, begin yours. Don’t want for the Dungeon Master to call your name. If something should interrupt the normal initiative order, such as a new monster entering combat or an ability used out-of-turn, whoever introduces it should call “interrupt”. It’s it’s quicker to call “interrupt” when something happens then to wait for the DM to sanction each turn.

Decide actions on the previous player’s turn

Take note of who’s in front of you in the initiative order and decide your action on his turn. As soon as he declares his end over, announce that action. This saves other players from waiting while you think. Your turn is for doing, not thinking. It’s possible that your action will be invalid by the time your turn arrives (the guy before you might kill the monster you wanted to attack), but more often than not this will speed things along.

Roll ahead of turn

If the Dungeon Master allows, roll your dice ahead of time. This method is absolutely vital in high-level D&D third edition games, where characters might roll fifteen or more dice per turn. Be honest and don’t “mike the dice”, a cheat where an unscrupulous player rolls ahead of time and re-rolls on his own turn if it misses.

Use an egg timer

For chronically slow players, use an egg timer set to thirty or sixty seconds. Each player has that amount of time to decide their actions, or else forfeit their turn.

Why Has Wizards Cancelled All PDF Products?

posted Wednesday, April 8th 2009 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

You may have heard by now that Wizards of the Coast has removed all its PDF products from sale, including both current edition and legacy AD&D products. Sites including Paizo and RPGNow have been asked to remove around 900 Wizards of the Coast products from sale, taking the company from the biggest supplier on RPGNow to a conspicuous zero.

Customers of PDF retailers have also found that Wizards of the Coast has revoked their right to download or re-download PDFs they’ve already purchased. I’m particularly annoyed with this, as I’ve lost three PDFs on Paizo.com and one on RPGNow. Several well-known industry figures have also voiced their dissatisfaction, including Stan!, JD Wiker, Eric Haddock, Sean K Reynolds.

So why are they doing it? Here’s a round-up of the conspiracy theories.

1. It’s in response to PDF piracy

This appears to be the official company response. According to an announcement posted on ENWorld:

Unfortunately, due to recent findings of illegal copying and online distribution (piracy) of our products, Wizards of the Coast has decided to cease the sales of online PDFs. We are exploring other options for digitial distribution of our content and as soon as we have any more information I’ll get it to you.

This tactic may be less successful than Wizards hopes. Customers locked out of their existing PDFs may turn to filesharing sources to recover them, and this in turn may act as a gateway to heavier filesharing. There has also been significant PR backlash on internet forums painting Wizards of the Coast as the bad guy, and D&D players more than anyone might believe that it’s okay to steal treasure from a villain.

2. It’s part of Wizards’ new Internet Sales Policy

On the same day that all PDFs were cancelled, Wizards of the Coast enacted a new Internet Sales Policy restricting how products are sold online. In particular, the new policy forbids retailers from selling online unless they have a physical presence.

However, this contract only seems to cover Magic: the Gathering products. RPGNow never sold Magic cards, and Paizo continues to sell Magic cards and D&D print books. There’s also nothing forcing websites to sign the agreement.

3. Wizards is trying to cripple third edition / OGL retailers

One theory doing the forum rounds is that Wizards are withdrawing their products to kill off support for third edtion. By removing third edition books from sale, the theory goes, 3E players are forced to update to 4E by a lack of official WotC PDFs, while the diminished traffic hurts PDF resellers and other publishers.

However, it’s doubtful that Wizards third edition PDFs sold especially well. None appeared on RPGNow’s Top 100 Products list last week, according to a Google cached version of the site. Of twelve WotC products that made the list, eleven were fourth edition products, including two in the top ten.

If this is their plan, it’s backfiring: several major publishers are using the opportunity to offer PDF customers their thanks and appreciation. Malhavoc has made an announcement, Green Ronin is offering a 40% discount on True20, White Wolf is offering a free copy of Exalted Second Edition and a 10% discount, and Paizo is offering a 35% discount on all Pathfinder products.

4. It has something to do with Dave Arneson

Speculation has arisen that the PDF issue relates to rights that recently lapsed after Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Dave Arneson passed away recently.

However, there are two problems with this theory. The first is that Arneson is still alive, if not “alive and well”. The second is that it’s likely Arneson signed away all rights to D&D long ago, except for a credit in every D&D sourcebook.

5. It’s an RIAA-style tactic to provoke PDF piracy

The Recording Industry Association of America has taken a lot of bad PR over the past few years for an infamous anti-piracy tactic: wait until until someone downloads an album, then sue them for $150,000 per song. With Wizards’ recent lawsuit against eight filesharers, some have suggested that they’re picking up on the RIAA strategy of monetizing piracy at the cost of consumer goodwill.

Wizards’ critics wouldn’t rule this out, but it’s a little far-fetched.

6. Wizards are going to sell D&D PDFs themselves

PDF sites like RPGNow charge a commission on sales. That cuts into WotC’s profit margin, when they could be selling on their own site for free. This would conveniently take sales away from competitors while allowing finer control of anti-piracy features such as watermarking and DRM.

This is a reasonably likely outcome. There’s a clear demand for PDF versions of D&D products, and keeping PDFs from sale won’t stop piracy as long as pirates have flatbed scanners and filesharing software. What does counter piracy is for customers to trust that publishers take great efforts to treat their fans as people and not revenue streams.

According to a post by RPGNow’s Steve Wieck, it seems likely that WotC will restore downloads for customers who had already purchased WotC products. This would makes a good step toward restoring consumer trust in Wizards of the Coast.

Importantly, it would also let me finish my download of The Great Modron March.

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