Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Grateful Miscellany

They say you should practice gratitude; taking a few minutes each day to reflect on what you're grateful for has beneficial effects on your mindset, emotional health, and even physical health.  You can find it all over the wise Google in mainstream publications - the science of gratitude.  Life is stressful, you've got to take care of yourself - get out and run or exercise, eat and sleep well, cherish the folks around you.  I'm a pretty grateful person overall.  (Coincidentally I'm a giant Grateful Dead fan, too).

Here are a couple of things I noticed this week in the gaming world that inspired some gratitude and appreciation.

Mike Mearls on Greyhawk
I rotate across a bevy of podcasts on the way to work, mostly non-gaming - history, philosophy, even some fantasy football.  Once in a while I'll fire up something about gaming.  I wouldn't categorically recommend WOTC's "Dragon Talk"; it's usually a bit of marketing, some exposition on obscure Forgotten Realms lore (yawn), and then a guest.  Some of the guests are doing fantastic things with D&D - psychologists using D&D to improve social skills with autism kids, for instance - real heartwarming stuff.  But many of the guests are streamers, celebrities, or improv groups talking about their shtick.  Every once in a while they do a "Sage Advice" where they deep dive on some rules with their rules guru, that's usually golden.  Dragon Talk is in my podcast queue; I'll typically look at the details and delete anything that seems yawnstipating.

This week's first serendipitous moment when I was doing clean up on some old Dragon Talks sitting on the iPod and saw one that had an interview with a cartographer, so I fired it up in the headphones while doing some house cleaning.  The cartographer interviewer was fine, the real gem was a 45 minute interview with Mike Mearls on why he loves Greyhawk as a setting.  (You can listen to it from here:  Dragon Talk with Deven Rue - Mike is at about 9 minutes in.)

The interview starts with an overview of campaign settings, from OD&D's start, the Greyhawk supplement, up until about the Forgotten Realms Greybox.  The theme of the interview, though, is why Greyhawk is different from the Forgotten Realms, and analysis on Gary's approach.  Greyhawk is human-centric, and focused on political states with very real human motivations.  Unlike later campaign sets, it's very much a tool box that presents the world right on the cusp of change (the return of Iuz, for instance) but doesn't tell the DM how the change needs to go.  It's a launch point for DIY D&D.

By comparison, the Forgotten Realms is all about the metaplot.  There are oodles of canonical references, novels, and published campaign arcs.  The Realms is ideal for the dungeon master that wants to run the game, but can't spend much time each week preparing their own stories; you can pick up any of the WOTC hardcovers for 5E and run something out of the book.  And to be fair, WOTC has been doing a good job of creating open-ended sandbox campaigns in the Realms.  I'm not a big fan of the Realms for many reasons, but I like how they've done most of their 5E adventure books.

But the main point of the podcast is Mike gets why Greyhawk is so highly regarded by our niche.  Down with canon.  I actually think if WOTC publishes a Greyhawk source book, their internal struggle is with whether they return to the 1983 Brown Box setting and omit Greyhawk Wars and From the Ashes (which pushed Greyhawk down the meta-story canon path).

Incidentally, Wizards of the Coast currently has a 2019 marketing survey posted to collect feedback on how you play D&D in 2019, including your favorite settings.  Get out there and vote for Team Greyhawk.  (Wizards of the Coast 2019 survey).

The Monsters Know What They're Doing
My other serendipitous discovery this week was the blog, The Monsters Know What They're Doing.  The author, Keith Ammann, has been writing weekly breakdowns of monster tactics for the past 3 years.  He deep-dives the Monster Manual or sourcebook entry, combining an analysis of the monster's attributes, skills, combat statistics, and flavor text, to provide a ready-to-use set of tactics at the table (for 5E).  Your kobolds will behave differently from orcs, which are different from goblins.  He's doing that for everything.  It's yeoman's work, and his blog is easy to search so you can target a specific monster and review tactical suggestions in advance of your game session.  Need an idea what the monster shaman will summon with the Conjure Animals spell?  Chances are he's got a breakdown for you in the tactics.  He's collected a few years of his material into a book - I don't have it yet, I just discovered the blog this week from an online mention.  I'll post a review if I get it; in the meantime the blog is free, searchable, and a fantastic labor of love.  If you're a DM for 5E, it will give you ideas when planning tactics for upcoming monster encounters and put you in the monster's shoes.

In the spirit of sharing, are there any world-building, DMing, or similar gaming podcasts you've been enjoying?  How about other hidden jewel blogs like The Monsters Know that you want to pass along?  Drop a note, thanks!

And one non-gaming thing to be grateful for - the Dead are touring again!  They played Halloween night in my area (Madison Square Garden) and I'll catch some shows this weekend down in Virginia, too.  (Photo courtesy of my friend Mindunn who maneuvered through the floor and got some great pics).  Happy Sunday.




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