Creative writing and OGL controversy #D&D #Starfinder

The podcasts that I listen to while walking / commuting to University have been rather dominated by the Wizards of the Coast – Open Gaming License controversy of late (e.g. DM of None). For anyone not that connected with Dungeons & Dragons or tabletop roleplaying news, it’s that Wizards has attempted to preview a new “OGL” license that aims to replace / invalidate the prior versions. Legal matters are beyond this blog’s scope, but the community reaction has been very critical of this move, at least in the circles I frequent.

On ice…

Since this blog went on ice, my D&D module writing has mostly been frozen as well. I’ve been too busy studying a Master’s and working remotely for any online gaming to speak of or even for creative writing. In a typical moment of irony, I have managed to fit in a couple of writing sessions after New Year’s ahead of study picking up again: just in time for this controversy to break. The issue for me, personally, is that my modules (on DMs Guild) may or may not be affected (Wizard’s have recently written that DMs Guild Community Content will not be affected, but who knows if that will change).

I have one starter and one full-length module published, plus a second full length module drafted (and in play-testing), and a sketch for the remaining two modules. There is still a *lot* of effort to bring my planned story arc to a close for this campaign. Having a complete adventure series of my own published would be certainly bring a lot of satisfaction, but the circumstances aren’t great. In the short-term this OGL issue is quite the demotivator, past the legal ramifications it’s just a really anti-community move.

Beyond that there’s also the pending launch of “6th edition” in 2024 (OneD&D or whatever it gets called) as a longer-term problem. As soon as the new edition of any ttrpg line comes out, I imagine sales for compatible adventures will be very buoyant, but sales of adventures for the old edition are likely to fall off a cliff due to the movement of players to the “new hotness” ruleset. I’m certainly not so blessed with free time that I can spend extra effort converting old modules to a new edition, or frankly even to learn the new ruleset itself.

Still walking, and writing, despite the freeze

My most active campaign at present is a Starfinder game. I’m not as well versed in that ruleset but I would be tempted to shift my limited attention to a potential “adventure path” for Starfinder Infinite (Paizo’s equivalent of the DMs Guild 3rd-party publishing scheme). At least until the dust settles on the OGL controversy it’ll give my creative time a ‘safe haven’ plus I might actually get more familiar with all the extra manuals I’ve bought that I didn’t get around to reading yet…

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Alienware Data Vault bug and a new life

The blog is coming out of deep freeze briefly for me to post a combined update on two issues. Firstly the gaming related one as my laptop was really struggling to run anything well by the time of my last post.

I did get around to replacing the thermal paste in my 2014-era Alienware gaming laptop and it initially made a big difference to the performance. I hadn’t really noticed how bad it had gotten until a friend suggested I check the CPU stats and noticed it was throttling the CPU down to about 5% speed! Now it’s back to its happy and performant self, despite its venerable age this laptop has always proven to be a really solid performer for gaming. Towards the end it struggled to even run Gloomhaven, which is hardly bleeding-edge graphics.

However, the slowdown wasn’t the worst of its woes – it had developed a kind of odd “freezing” tendency. At random it would freeze for about 3-4 seconds while the twin fans inside did a ramp-up and ramp-down: but not at the same time, always the left for 1.5 seconds and then the right. It was the oddest thing – like a doppler effect demonstration in cooling form. While it was doing this the cursor, and pretty much everything else was stuck, video playback would pause and sound playback would often corrupt. A forum thread, lost to the chaos of the last two months, contained many replies from owners of this era Alienware – a suspect BIOS update may have introduced a bug (or planned obsolescence ‘feature’).

Cut to this last week, and I finally got around to searching for this again as the freezing was getting annoying when I’m working remotely for a UK firm. Turns out the Dell Data Vault services (all 3) need disabling in services.msc – the old fashioned service conrol panel. Since I’ve done that, not a freeze has happened (I may have just touched wood)!

Campus is near the Rideau Canal – I love having access to water

In other news, the big transistion I hinted at before has happened. I am now studying a Master’s in Sustainable Energy at a university in Ottawa, Canada. My husband and I have longed to move to Canada for years, but the pandemic was quite the roadblock. The tail end of the summer was beyond manic as we cleared our house in London for renting, and condensed our lives down into what we could carry onto a plane. Now settled in our own apartment in the city, I’m swamped with new disciplines to study and still a lot of ‘life admin’ to help with as we get settled here. Gaming isn’t really on the cards in any substantial way for the near future, but I’m optimistic that by Christmas I should have regained some kind of work-study-life balance again!

My walk to Uni takes me paste Dow’s lake through parkland – beautiful!
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Extended afk

Just a quick note to state the obvious, I’m on an extended hiatus from blogging and online gaming. Potentially life changing news came in late May – the long-desired exit plan from my country may, finally, be coming to fruition. I was already busy at the time winding up work contracts and the relatively short-notice nature means all hands to the wheel on that now.

June was also a really busy time for us, travelling to see family and spend time with friends every weekend. I’m suffering for all the happy times now, as I have my second dose of COVID currently – whatever politicians say it hasn’t gone anywhere, and in the UK is surging rapidly. Nothing too bad so far but it’s made me do little but sleep and read for a few days so far.

What little time I’ve spent on gaming since May has been console games since my venerable Alienware developed an overheating problem in June (or more accurately the slowly worsening problem reached a crisis-point). I’ve bought the necessary thermal-paste and precision tools to almost fully dismantle it to reach the CPU/GPU assembly where the problem lies, but won’t be attempting such major cyber-surgery until I’m recovered.

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All the Dungeons & Dragons news

There was a flurry of Dungeons & Dragons news last week (see summary), it came out just as I was ramping up to a frantic week of work so I was kind of distracted from absorbing any of it beyond the headlines. I’ve since done some catch up reading and listened to the relevant episode of the Morrus’ Unofficial Tabletop RPG Talk podcast for some discussion on this deluge of updates. Here’s a collection of my thoughts on some of these headlines:


I’ve seen a lot of excitement about the return of this classic 1980s D&D campaign setting on Twitter. I did actually read the first two triologies when they came out, and ran the first AD&D module for friends. But my tastes in fantasy have changed rather a lot since then. There were more exciting settings, for me, released at the time and since, than ‘generic fantasy world but with clerical magics and deities removed and a LOT of dragons’. The books were enjoyable to read as works of epic fantasy, but like any ‘larger than life’ fantasy I’d probably find it a bit harder to run a campaign in a world where anything other than the ‘main events’ would feel overshadowed. It’s a reason why I’ve struggled to plan a satisfactory campaign in any Star Wars RPG.

This is apparently a new twist on the setting in that it will re-introduce mass combat style mechanics to this edition of D&D. There’ll be standard small-party adventures and a coop game to simulate the big battles of the War of the Lance. If the latter ends up being fun to play then it could tap into, belatedly, some of the general enthusiasm for epic fantasy + fantasy big battles in other media (e.g. the Game of Thrones series or even the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies). Mass combat simulation gaming isn’t something I’m in a hurry to revisit, I did my fair share of Warhammer 40k back in my 90s but I’ve not been tempted to revisit that style of gaming even in digital form.

I have my preferred D&D campaign already available with Eberron – as I mentioned my tastes in fantasy have moved on from standard settings. The Magicpunk / Renaissance-fantasy themes of Eberron have a lasting appeal for me, and have proved to be a richer source of inspiration for stories and backdrops for the adventures I have written myself than I ever found in older D&D settings.


A much predicted and requested classic setting that’s also coming back, is the ‘fantasy in space’ Spelljammer. It was a pretty unusual setting when released: I wasn’t aware of any similar space fantasy properties at the time so it felt very fresh. In Spelljammer ships, both mundane and very exotic in shape, have magical helms attached that allow them to fly up and into space. Each star system is contained within an enormous ‘crystal sphere‘ (fan wiki link), and deep space – everything around and between the many crystal spheres is a magical medium called the phlogiston. Ships normally travel between spheres using ‘flowrivers’, invisible currents in this medium that connect pairs of spheres. The setting introduced some evocative factions to act as potential allies or enemies for the party: for example the vile neogi (centauroid wolf-spider slavers), the insidious mind flayers (their spelljammer ships are some of the most iconic), asteroid mining dwarves and an imperious elven space empire.

I rather loved Spelljammer back in the day, friends and I ran several different campaigns using the system so I got to DM and play in the setting. I even created my own cluster of crystal spheres to run an entire campaign based on Mystara, the de facto D&D setting for “Basic Dungeons & Dragons” (a k a OD&D). In theory I should be firmly within the target audience for this nostalgia-heavy release.

There’s one very major obstacle to me getting that excited about Spelljammer, however: unlike in the 1980s I now have a competing product for my freetime and DMing enthusiasm in the Starfinder system from Paizo. Although the two products are not identical (‘fantasy in space’ vs ‘science fantasy’) they do overlap in some key conceits – in both campaigns likely centre around a party of adventurers who have access to their own ship for travel between different planets or star systems. Both have travel and exploration as key underlying themes, and a wider-than-normal variety of species and biomes than say the Forgotten Realms (or even Eberron).

I’m so invested in Starfinder at the moment that I’m not keen to jump on yet another setting and campaign. I’ve seen some Tweets the sentiment of which I echo – along the lines of “great, Spelljammer is exciting, but hey if you didn’t already know there’s a very similar game already out with tons of great material called Starfinder…”

D&D Compendium

Who doesn’t love free stuff? The old 1980s concept of Monster Compendium for D&D is back (think serialised release of groups of stat blocks). Volume 1 will be available for free via the D&D Beyond website. Not surprisingly the first volume focuses on some Spelljammer-themed monsters. I’ve never signed up for a D&D Beyond account, but now might be the time so I can get access to some more monsters for my own D&D campaigns! For more details see this Bell of Lost Souls blogpost.

Posted in D&D, Starfinder, TTRPG | 1 Comment

That whole Twitter thing…

Apparently I’ve had a Twitter account for gaming since Feb 2016, longer than I’d have remembered to be frank. I read Twitter fairly regularly to get my highly curated and ecclectic mix of gaming, ttrpg and language specific content (mostly German with a sprinkling of French and Spanish). So it’s with some consternation that I read various tweets and blog posts about the whole takeover controvery – and the significant number of “quitting Twitter” Tweets and posts.

I read Roger’s excellent post on this and I have to say I agree with his take. Just quitting the platform makes me feel like I’m abandoning a lot of good folk whom I follow on there. Most of my interactions on ‘social media’ are on Twitter of late – I just don’t have the time or mental bandwidth for Facebook, and I’m not finding any time to sit on Discord either. I may not post that much, other than the auto posts from this blog, but I do interact with other people’s content there more than anywhere else.

Another issue for me is platform inertia or even exhaustion. I’m just done with adding new or more social media-type platforms to my life. All these companies are in it for the money and they all do terrible things. It’s seems a lot of effort and likely not so effective to try and live a digital life free of intrusive data collection. I could have left Facebook multiple times over the years but most of my family are there and I want to be able to keep track of them and their updates – it’s the best and easiest place to do that. Again, I almost never post on FB thesedays but as a place to interact with one segment of my life it’s the best tool I have.

I get why some feel they have to quit Twitter over this, but for now at least, I’m going to keep interacting with the Twitter accounts I follow, to show I value their posts and to do my tiny personal bit to keep one small, positive corner of the platform going.

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Cautiously optimistic on Dragonflight #WorldofWarcraft

I’m breaking radio silence to post about the World of Warcraft expansion announcement that I just watched live on YouTube: Dragonflight (offical site page). Regular posts won’t resume until mid-late May due to work commitments but a new expansion for a treasured MMO is worthy of coverage for posterity.

So Dragonflight has been announced as the next expansion, with some key features so far listed:

  • The Dracthyr race/class combo (new evoker class linked to and limited to the new Dracthyr race)
  • The return of more traditional talent trees
  • Dragonriding
  • Profession revamp

So far so good. I’ve always found the modern “talent row” system unsatisfactory, personally, I want more character customisation in order to make leveling feel more individualistic. The devil’s in the detail, but the preview screenshot looked promising – the combo of class and spec trees (Druid was shown for a split second) looked promising.

The concept of race/class combo does have a prescendence in the genre: for example the Beorning in Lord of the Rings Online. It’s pretty restrictive, so there are bound to be some grumblings on this as not everyone likes a lizard-based character: personally I’m a fan so have no problem with this. I wasn’t expecting a new class in this expansion and that is a good way to increase an expansion’s appeal to me, I can never have too many alts. This class will be ranged dps and healer (mail-wearing), which is a dream combo for me.

Dragonriding looks like a combo of customisable dragon mounts plus “vehicle rides” from a WoW perspective. More broadly it looks a lot like gliding or the griffon mount from Guild Wars 2. Movement mechanics is something I’ve praised before, so this could be a good thing.

Lots more to come no doubt, but hey, the Tuskarr will make a return properly in this expansion, that alone could be enough to bring me back!

Posted in LotRO, MMORPG, World of Warcraft | 1 Comment

Adaptations in TTRPGs

Thinking back to what I wrote about adapting to a dual-stick controller previously, I was reminded of several examples of adaptation in another gaming context: tabletop roleplaying games. I’ve also written before about the forever nature of roleplaying rulesets and supplements in that they do not suffer from “hardware creep” (in printed or PDF forms at least). Unlike computer or console games they do not automatically become obsolete in the way due to the relentless march of computing power “progress”. We may move on from earlier editions of a game, or just change our focus to other things, but the books or PDFs sit there patiently waiting a rebirth – kind of like alts in former MMORPGs but without the sword of damocles of a game shutdown hanging over them. Although I’m not that nostalgic for ‘old’ editions of rulesets, the setting materials and adventures can always be given new life in a slightly adapted form.

I’ve read recently about SW5E, a community project set up by Star Wars fans to create an adapted version of the Dungeons & Dragons 5E ruleset for playing in the Star Wars setting. There’s rather a lot on the community site now: the system has been under development for years already at this point. This is appealing to me for two reasons: firstly, the sunk cost that I have in the 5E rulebooks and the fact that I don’t want to start on “yet another” unrelated roleplaying system: i.e. the officially licensed Fantasy Flight Games series of Star Wars roleplaying games. Secondly, this would be much closer to and more compatible with the almost complete set of d20-based Star Wars RPG (original and revised) books that I own in print – launching a 5E campaign would be easy with so much material at my finger tips. Sadly that won’t happen in the near future as I have less than zero free time for writing/starting another campaign – but it is a project I’ll put on the to do list. All those rich settings books would make quite an adaptation project for any such campaign.

Writing across different editions is one of the kinds of TTRPG adaptation that I have most familiarity with. In my longest running Eberron campaign (3E D&D), I got a hold of all the published 3E and 4E adventure modules and stitched, rewrote and expanded on them to form a more or less coherent campaign that spanned several continents and many years of realtime adventures. It was a whole heap of fun to do, I rather enjoy adapting published adventures as it happens. The 4E modules were a bit of a challenge as the rules for encounters building was rather different and NPC stat blocks a lot more elaborate. But a mix of rebuilding encounters from scratch and improvisation carried me through some fun sessions. It was probably this campaign that hooked me the most on rewriting published modules as a major focus of my creative time, I have since written three adventures from scratch myself (two published on DMs Guild and a third in playtesting), but that involves a sizeable amount of incidental work that speaks less to my core skillset and motivations (e.g. map drawing and layout work).

I’ve greatly enjoyed all the expansion and adaptation writing that I have done so far for parts 1-4 of the Dead Suns adventure path for Starfinder; all the ‘hard work’ is done for me: the maps are drawn and the plot is laid out. I get to embellish on that, fix the plot gaps or loopholes, add in extra scenes or encounters to fit my party and generally focus on polish and ensuring the adventures work for my group. I’m also deriving a lot of pleasure from the partial rewrite of my published campaign modules for a second group – maybe a little too much as the plot rewrites may be getting too extensive! Again, it has allowed me to focus on the things I enjoy the most (plot, encounter design, mysteries & puzzles), while using the preexisting maps and story framework.

A related final example of adaptation that I rather enjoyed was the creation of the Signalleer class archetype for the 5E Ranger, embedded firmly in the settting and plot of my Eberron campaign, but with a conscious acknowledgement that it could be of interest to a player or DM who just wants a new option for the Ranger – irrespective of what adventures are to come. I re-read this recently as was reminded at how much fun it was to take the same core concept and to adapt it for not only for other imagined campaigns using Eberron, but also the entirely separate Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft settings.

Am I describing an incredibly niche writing job here? Maybe this is actually the work of a developmental editor (something I’ve heard mentioned on the Mythcreants podcast)? It’s something I believe I am good at and really enjoy doing so I should probably see if I can do something about that…

Posted in D&D, Fantasy Grounds, Starfinder, TTRPG | Comments Off on Adaptations in TTRPGs

Where does the time go?

I find myself perplexed at how quickly days go by. I’m not sure if it’s the pandemic (ongoing/aftermath) or age or just being busier than ever. I was away last weekend so no post and suddenly it’s nearly two weeks since I wrote anything. Sadly this also applies to gaming, at least computer-based, I’ve barely played anything in the last two weeks. I managed to sneak a quick game of Everquest 2 to do some dailies, and I played one shortish session of Lost Ark. It’s two weeks and a day since I last managed to play Star Wars the Old Republic.

Travel .. elsewhere!

I’ve been busy with work – two 50% FTE contracts takes more time and energy than the sum of their hours – I’ve worked both Tuesday evenings in-between and will probably work some more this weekend. I manage to squeeze some Gloomhaven sessions and other coop stuff into other evenings but MMO gaming isn’t happening at the moment. I’m not even finding much, if any, time to write RPG adventures.

I do wonder if my sense of time has changed over the last few years? I’m back working full-time+ after having mostly worked 70-80% full time equivalent for years, I guess I got used to having more free time than this. I also feel like I’m lacking energy in general, though that could just be a “changing of the seasons” thing. There’s been more early nights of late, which also cuts into gaming time. I’m also lacking a sense of attachment to any specific games – if I do have free time I’m as likely to get sucked into watching YouTube lore videos than actually gaming.

Vista unlocked!

My free time situation should improve dramatically in May, still two months away, but getting closer now, after four months that have felt like “crunch time”. Here’s hoping I get back to gaming more in the future!

Posted in MMORPG | 1 Comment

WASD love

I realised something recently that may be a result of my specific gaming history: of the many hours as a teenager, student and then early career 20-something playing endless hours of various 90s shooter, action RPG and similar first-person PC games. In such games the default mode has always been ‘WASD’ movement – using a block of standard keys for directional character movement (usually with Q and E for strafing). I’ve been playing recently, by coincidence, a number of games that do not use this movement stalwart and I find it irritatingly impractical…

I may shoot wildly at townsfolk on occasion…

Lost Ark for instance has “click to move”, something I’ve seen in a number of imported MMORPGs, but usually as an optional alternative to a more direct control scheme. In Lost Ark abilities are tied to the WASD block – I’ve not played enough sessions to overrule my muscle memory on the control scheme so I often start randomly firing guns while moving around town or the wilderness because I just want to press ‘W’ to move my character forward.

I suppose with isometric games WASD does make less sense given that it’s less immediately apparent which exact way your character is facing. It’s been a long time since I played through Diablo 3 or Path of Exile though, so the movement scheme is one aspect of Lost Ark that is jarring. It’s not like WASD is always absent from such games however, husband and I are playing through the gothic isometric adventure Arkham Horror (Mother’s Embrace) and movement of your character is almost exclusively through the WASD keys. It works perfectly well in the context of the game and provides the precision needed for a turn-based combat system where movement and range-limited actions need somewhat careful positioning.

Taking a screenshot while running is impossible (for me) on the controller

I’m also playing a good amount of Jedi: Fallen Order on Playstation 4. I doubt I will ever feel at home with a dual analogue stick controller – it just feels like finger gymnastics to coordinate moving and changing perspective at the same time – despite the irony that I am 100% fluent at using a keyboard and mouse to do the very same actions. Pressing forward the left stick to run forward whilst also pressing that same stick down to run seems like an awkward combination to me and I often loose speed half-way towards my destination / the enemy. Holding down shift (or a similar modifier key) with W never bothers me in the slightest.

Not much of a conclusion to the post to make, it’s just something I’ve struggled a bit with of late. I compare the experiences above with a recent dip back into Warframe with a friend and, despite not playing the game since circa 2018, I felt like a duck returning to the water with the controls.

Posted in MMORPG | 2 Comments

To upgrade or not (Windows 11)

My gaming laptop has had some issues recently, in part because I’ve not done the standard fix for any more serious Windows performance or reliability issues – I’ve not reinstalled Windows on this laptop since I last replaced the hard disk (with a faster SSD model).That was in 2016 to be precise (thank you blog-as-memory). That may fill some readers with horror at the thought of all the file-detritous that will have built up, but I’ve only started having performance issues in the last couple of months.

A rebuild may help the laptop’s, or at least the operating system’s, performance a bit; realistically though it’s a big chunk of effort for maybe a rather small amount of gain. Buying a new gaming computer isn’t at the top of my financial priorities at the moment but I could consider it later this year.

I’m now using two different work laptops (I’ve ended up with two jobs, a long story for another time), both running Windows 11. One I’ve upgraded to 11 from 10, the other came with 11 pre-installed. Both perform well for their respective hardware spec and I’ve not encountered any major bugs or problems adapting to the new Windows. Neither is appropriate or specced for gaming though, so I haven’t experienced gaming in Windows 11 yet.

For my work computer the upgrade was a no-brainer, it saved the organisation money and I only use a limited set of software on that. My gaming laptop has dozens of games installed, productivity software, Fantasy Grounds (two versions) and a host of tech tools. That quite a lot of software that might be obsoleted or broken by the upgrade. I wonder whether upgrading, during this limited time window, is worth a shot to eek a few more months or years out of the old laptop?

Posted in MMORPG | 4 Comments