Friday, April 25, 2008

Reinvigorating theHobby

One of the stated goals of 4th edition D&D is that it will reinvigorate the hobby. I think this is a fine goal because what is good for Wizards is ultimately good for the industry on the whole.

Currently we're living in an age where the roleplaying game market is getting sucker punched. Online sales are killing the locally owned gaming shops by undercutting prices and offering titles that the local shops simply cannot afford to stock. On top of that, the whole tabletop gaming category is hurting because of the massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs). It has gotten bad to the point where the guy who got me into roleplaying in the first place referred to the RPG industry as dying.

But is it dying? The fact is that there are fewer large gaming publishers around now than there were when the last edition of the game came out eight years ago. That alone should be pretty telling. You have a lot more books selling in PDF format rather than print, and those who are printing their products are running some pretty short print runs. Books are now selling in the hundreds of copies where they used to sell in the thousands.

Advertising is down. With the death of the printed versions of Dragon and Dungeon magazine, where are is a small to medium sized publisher supposed to advertise so that they can reach a large number of their target audience? They pretty much have to go online and appeal to the gamer elite to buy their products. The problem with this is that there are so many different products competing for the dollars of the gamer elite that it's very easy for quality products to get overlooked. Then you have the gamer elite, which in itself is composed of a few thousand, and as much as they love to play these games and buy the good stuff, they see small companies marketing to them so often that they've become very jaded about it. And who can blame them? As one of them, I've definitely limited my spending money to the stuff that really catches my interest.

So along comes D&D 4th edition, which will be making some pretty major changes to the game we've all known for such a long time. For a lot of people, it's hard to get past the fact that the game will be changing to this extent, but I understand why they're doing it and I support their efforts because ultimately this hobby either needs a boost, or it is going to quietly fade into the night. I'm basing my career on the health of the industry, so I really feel strongly that their efforts need to succeed. Sure, there's been a lot of talk about what the new gaming license will do to 3rd party publishers, and I think people have some valid concerns, but ultimately we need to focus a little more on what's best for the hobby and the industry built up around it. What's good for WotC is good for the industry.

If WotC can draw back the lapsed gamers as well as show all of these people who have gotten hooked on World of Warcraft that this is a fun worthwhile thing to do - and its social so they can do it with their friends rather than doing it at their computer - then there will be more people in the local game shops and more products being sold into the mass market. Right now it's crucial that the industry either finds a way to stop the bleeding out of gamers and actually manage to draw some new people in, or simply resign itself to the status of a fad that has finally had its last hurrah. I was raised in gaming and it will forever be a part of me. I can't imagine a time where it doesn't exist in one form or another, but frankly, I don't want to see MMOs be it's only future.

So do I support 4th edition D&D? The answer to that is an unequivocal YES! I want 4th edition to be a smashing success because it will mean more work for me, more people interested in gaming, and more products out there to choose from. Likewise, I hope that the smaller niche games can continue into the future. I want to see Pathfinder, Modern20, and True20 (among others) to continue to be successful. I love these niche games because I like to have some variety in genres and game styles after playing D&D for over 20 years. What's good for WotC is good for the industry, so we wall wait to see if this is the fresh start the hobby needs right now. I have faith that it will be, and things will be much more upbeat in the industry by this time next year.

Monday, April 21, 2008

No Empire Tonight

I've been a busy little monkey the last couple weeks. Not only have I finished up writing Reign of Discordia (and been pimping it like a madman anywhere that will listen to me about it), but I also just finished writing the final installment of ENPublishing's War of the Burning Sky, a little adventure called The Beating of the Aquiline Heart. I was planning to reward myself by watching Star Wars (No, please do not ask me to refer to it as A New Hope. And Han shot first damnit!) and Empire Strikes Back tonight.

So I sat down and made it through Star Wars, but the whole time I was sitting there I was thinking about how I wasn't entirely thrilled with our first Reign of Discordia adventure the other night. It was really just a great deal of improvisation following the basic story I was planning to make into the first published adventure for the setting, but at the end I felt that the heroes weren't really challenged enough. Then inspiration struck in a big way on how I could restructure the whole scenario to make it much more action packed..... More like what I would be likely to find in one of those late '70s/early '80s era space operas, which are helping inform the direction of this product. So rather than watching Empire, I instead sat down and hammered out over a thousand words worth of adventure proposal and shot it off to Dave at RDP. I suspect that he'll like it and I'll be able to get to work writing it just as soon as I make a few minor changes to The Beating of the Aquiline Heart (What do you mean the beholder isn't in the SRD!!!!? Oops, I seem to have forgotten about that.)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Remembering Oathbound

Its really easy for a person to get so focused on what their current projects are that they don't bother looking back at some of the things they've done in the past. Specifically, in my case, I'm 110% into campaigning for the success of the Reign of Discordia line. I'm doing this because I know its a good setting, it's consistent with my design philosophies, and the art direction of the thing is going to get away from the CGI look space opera has developed in recent and get back to its roots from the late 1970s.

But this blog entry isn't about Reign of Discordia and how wonderfully brilliant it is. This blog entry is about the Oathbound campaign setting.

I first became involved with Oathbound right at the tail end of the writing for the core setting book. In fact, other than offering up a little tidbit that was added to the adventure in the book, I really didn't do much at all for that book and I was lucky to have gotten into the credits at all. I did do the adventure that appeared for free on the website. I did get to play a major role in Plains of Penance, which was the first expansion book for the setting. I was asked to write an adventure that would appear in it, and I was told to make use of a creature called the Ulatra. I did it, excited to be getting my first real freelance gig, and happily turned it in. Later, Todd Morasch, the lead artist and the guy who had thought up the Ulatra in the first place back back when he was in highschool, sent me an email thanking me for bringing his monster to life. He was thrilled that I could write an adventure around this creature and do so in a way that was faithful to his imagination. This would be the first of many such successes with Oathbound.

My second major Oathbound project was Wrack and Ruin, which was about the portions of the city of Penance that either lie in ruin or lie beneath the city. To be honest, I still can't keep straight which was which, but the point was that it was the first book (other than some stuff I did for my own short lived company) where I was given the position of lead designer. We're talking cover credit and about 50,000 words of the book! Man, that puppy really was the first book that could be called a Darrin Drader vehicle, and again, not only did Bastion seem happy with it, but it was also a critical success.

The next book I played a role in was Oathbound: Arena, where we finally broke into the second major domain of the Forge. It was a harsh desert where people went in to do battle over the massive amounts of gold that lie beneath the red sands. I forget the actual number of words I contributed to this book. It wasn't enough to earn cover credit, but it was somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 words, so again, it was a good chunk. I also have to admit that I prefer the Arena portion of the setting to Penance. In fact, I think it was probably the best domain we developed. There were a lot of writers working on it which brought about real diversity, ultimately leading to a widely varied but very compelling setting. I can also lay claim to the mass combat system in that book as well as a prestige class that still catches my fancy called the Ravager, which would spin stones around it to absorb damage it would have otherwise suffered. Again, this book met with critical success.

I wasn't part of Mysteries of Arena, since I was too busy writing Serpent Kingdoms for WotC at that time, but once I was done with that project, I helped Thomas Knauss out on Wildwood. While he did the majority of the writing for this book, I still managed to kick in 50,000 words and added a significant amount of the defining characteristics to the final book, including one of the strangest D&D type adventures I've ever seen. Again on this one, it was met with critical acclaim. Unfortunately it came at a time when the D20 market glut was in full swing, and Bastion Press wasn't doing so great financially. As a result, it literally took years for it to find its way out of development and into the hands of the gamers who wanted it. I was impressed that one of the people who was the most vocal about his desire to own the book was the ENWorld critic Alan "Psion" Kohler.

One more book was written for the Oathbound line, the Player's Guide to Oathbound, which was designed to make Oathbound 3.5 compatible. Thomas Knauss ran solo with that project, and I was definitely too busy working on WotC projects at that time to get too involved with it. Actually, other than looking over some stats for some races I had originally created, I had nothing to do with it. Because of the sorry shape Bastion was in, it never saw any form of official release and it was recently leaked as a word file for free through Steve Creech, the new owner of Bastion. He couldn't officially release it since the ownership of the Oathbound line reverted back to Greg Dent, the guy who thought up the setting in the first place, but it was still an entire book sitting on his hard drive that was of interest to the people who still liked the setting.

Some people look at the failure of Bastion to mean that the Oathbound setting itself failed to sell. That's pretty far from the truth, considering that in terms of actual sales, the entire Oathbound line was one of the highest selling non-WotC D20 settings. Unfortunately, as sheer number of D20 books hit critical mass, the actual number of books any company was able to sell hit rock bottom. Sales into the hobby game market for most companies went from being in the thousands to the hundreds. For Bastion, this was simply not enough to sustain the livelihood of the owner of the company and (like many others at the time) the business sank.

Despite the ultimate demise of Bastion Press and the Oathbound line, I can say that it was a setting that did get a lot of circulation among gamers and it literally launched my game design career. I can hang my hat on it and say that it was as good as of a setting as we could create. Yes, I am a bit proud of my involvement with it, and it really brings a smile to my face these days when I see people talking well about it. I've been seeing a lot of that lately.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Reign of Discordia Press Release

Reality Deviant Publications and Darrin Drader have teemed up to produce a new science fiction space opera campaign setting called “Reign of Discordia” exclusively for the True20 game system.

The core book, due out in May, describes a galaxy in turmoil following the collapse of a major star-spanning government called the Stellar Imperium. The core Imperium worlds have been destroyed and most of the former member worlds have decided to fend for themselves. While they try to reestablish their own sovereignty, a brutal power lurks, slowly exacting their vengeance upon a defeated people.

“This is something that has really been on the backburner for a few years,” Said author Darrin Drader. “I’ve been a huge space opera fan since I was a young child. I caught the original Star Wars in the theater when it was first released in 1977, I was a huge fan of Star Trek, the original Battlestar Galactica, and all the other major space shows that have been around since then. I really wanted to do a space opera, but I wanted to do something that captured the excitement and a little bit of the style that you saw with science fiction back in that era. I think there were some ideas about the future and future technology back then that you just don’t see very much of anymore, so I wanted to dust those off and incorporate them into the setting. I also wanted to make the play style support a number of different sub-genres within the larger space opera genre, and I think I’ve managed to accomplish those goals. I feel that the best system for this sort of game is Green Ronin’s True20 game, so I’m quite pleased that we decided to use it for this setting.”

Reign of Discordia will become one of Reality Deviant Publication’s core settings, which will receive several accessories and adventures in the near future. Reality Deviant’s other core settings include Cthulhu, Land of the Crane, Interface Zero and Blood Throne.

About Reality Deviant Publications
Reality Deviant Publications is a small press publishing company whose focus is on producing a variety of RPG games and supplements for various game systems including True20 and the Ogl/D20 system. More information about Reality Deviant Publications is at

About Darrin Drader
Darrin Drader is an eight year veteran of the role playing game industry and has worked on several well known products, including the Book of Exalted Deeds, D20 Apocalypse, Forgotten Realms: Serpent Kingdoms, and Forgotten Realms: Mysteries of the Moonsea, all by Wizards of the Coast. He was also an integral part of the Oathbound campaign setting, with a sizable amount of material in Plains of Penance, Wrack and Ruin, Arena, and Wildwood. He has also written a number of gaming related articles for a variety of other publishers. A full list of credits is posted at