Surprise! Mola! Mola!
Last week, I made the plunge (puns) and gave into the temptation to download the incredibly silly time-waster known as Mola Mola. From numerous people I follow on Twitter, I kept seeing notifications about fish dying in tragic ways. I was curious, and decided to give it a try. It’s free – what could go wrong? The game is like a million other products that run on the mechanics of behavioral psychology and a variable-ratio reinforcement schedule. There is even an achievement for tapping on your mola 3,000 in one game, which is ridiculous. Did I complete this task? Of course I did! When you play the game, the goal is to grow a bigger fish, survive grander adventures, and unlock more and better food. Rinse (oh, puns), and repeat.
The unique thing about Mola Mola is that death, which happens frequently, suddenly – and quite tragically I might add – actually makes you stronger in the next play through. When your fish dies, the likelihood that it will die again from the same cause is reduced. For example, your fish could die sunbathing (just trust me). The first time you go on the sunbathing adventure, you have a 50% chance of surviving. When you die by sunbathing the first time, the chance of survival increases to 75%. When you die by sunbathing a second time, the survival rate increases to 95%. Also, when you die, you earn Mola Points (MP) that can be used to buy food and adventures – so death makes you stronger. If MP reminds you of experience points (XP), then you are correct; it’s exactly like XP.
Death is often seen as a negative outcome in gaming. Death in videogames often leads to the player starting over from a checkpoint to progress through a level again in the hopes of learning from their errors. Death in tabletop games often ends the adventure for the character that has died – unless he or she is brought back to life through some type of game mechanic or divine/DM intervention. Mola Mola takes the outcome of death and turns it into something that is rewarding and makes it easier to advance further in future games. Below, I explore how Mola Mola-style death could be used to inject more life into your next roleplaying game session.
During the life of this blog, I have been fortunate to interview interesting members of the roleplaying game community in addition to professionals from other fields. It has been a great way to learn more about the RPG industry and discover some of the history I have missed along the way. The following interview is with Scott Taylor, who was kind enough to communicate with me about his numerous roles over the years in the fantasy art world. My fondness for old-school fantasy art is on display in my home everyday, so I was eager to dive into the interview and learn Scott’s perspective on a number of topics related to fantasy art.
Below, Scott explores trends in the RPG art industry, and discusses his list of the most important artists throughout his years in the business. The interview closes with an overview of his eighth Kickstarter campaign, The Folio, which is a throwback to old school modules that now adorn a table in my house!
Thank you for sharing your time and discussing your work in fantasy and science fiction. It is my understanding that you have worked as an art director, editor, publisher, writer, and agent in these realms. I’m curious to learn more about those different hats! How did your career in fantasy and science fiction get started?
Well, I suppose I got into this career like most folks, first as an avid gamer, and then slowly working my way into publishing with fantasy publications like Black Gate, then Wizards of the Coast, Privateer Press, and finally Gygax. That is the short answer, and I guess the longer one would be a lifelong obsession with fantasy art. I found that if you work hard enough, artists that you once thought were gods on high, could be accessible. When I began making friends with people I had looked up to since childhood, new avenues and opportunities appeared, namely my own business at Art of the Genre where I get to work first hand with legends in the field.
When Codename: Morningstar was announced earlier this year, players of Dungeons & Dragons greeted the news with a mixture of interest and apprehension. Veteran players of 4th Edition D&D had used the digital tools created by Wizards of the Coast for years with mixed results. The Character Builder certainly assisted in organizing the cumbersome process of character creation and maintenance, though its reliance on Silverlight was an issue for some. The Monster Builder was useful for certain functions, but other user-created tools (i.e., Masterplan) offered greater flexibility and functionality at a lower cost for designing and organizing monsters. Meanwhile, the Virtual Tabletop and was abandoned altogether, and other promised DM Tools never surfaced. Wizards of the Coast and Trapdoor Technologies, the development team for Codename: Morningstar, set out to renew hope that a functional digital toolset for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragon was possible.
Codename: Morningstar reintroduced itself as DungeonScape at Gen Con this summer. Since hosting a number of prominent online community members to demonstrate the functionality of DungeonScape, the team has attempted to answer questions and roll out a working product for players of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. A beta project was underway, and it seemed as if DungeonScape would soon be released. However, Trapdoor Technologies announced last month they would no longer be partners with Wizards of the Coast. Wizards followed up with a brief statement saying that the relationship with Trapdoor Technologies had been terminated, leaving the future of a licensed digital toolset for 5th Edition up in the air.
The cover for the new Dungeon Master’s Guide features a powerful lich who bears a striking resemblance to Iddy the Lich, the mascot for this blog. I have joked about Iddy being on the cover of the DMG on occasion through Twitter with team members from Wizards of the Coast in the hope that they would allow me to preview some pages before the book is released. Without burying the lead, the team at Wizards was gracious enough to send me two pages from the manual to share with the community!
You would not like Iddy when he’s angry!
Many of the articles I have written about Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop gaming have been influenced by my background as a licensed psychologist. The team at Wizards thought it was fitting to provide me with two pages with details on how to create non-playable characters (NPCs) with personality. Below, I present the pages on NPCs, demonstrate how to use the tables to create four NPCs, and discuss how the Big Five personality traits can be used to develop memorable NPCs.
This is what I think I look like running online gaming sessions!
My first session of Hoard of the Dragon Queen was a good experience of what I hope is a long-living campaign. Since getting local friends together for consistent gaming sessions proved difficult, I decided to attempt running an online game. By doing this I was able to expand the potential pool of players, and after a week or so of organization and scheduling I found six players who could commit to weekly sessions. There is always something new to learn about running an effective gaming session in a face-to-face setting, and there are plenty of things for me to learn about running online sessions effectively. Below I discuss a few suggestions about setup, communication, combat, and space based on a few early sessions of Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons as a player and DM.
When setting up a face-to-face campaign, I have found that the first session is often a combination of character creation and a brief start to an adventure. Online gaming presents a bit of a challenge because players are often creating their PC in isolation from the other players and the first session thrusts players right into the adventure. To address this, I set out to increase the amount of collaboration among the players before the sessions even started.
Last week I started to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen for a new group of players online. I will post some thoughts later in the week about the challenges and opportunities posed when running a game online, but first I wanted to discuss how I approached the “inaugural campaign for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons.” Other quality suggestions have been offered on how to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen by Mike Shea, and while he goes through the complete first episode in its entirety, I will focus on setup and the earliest encounters in Episode 1.
Below are thoughts about some hurdles I came across in the preparation for the campaign, and how I jumped over them. For players who plan to play Hoard of the Dragon Queen, it may be best to skip this article as there will be some spoilers.
Why Are You Traveling to Greenest?
Hoard of the Dragon Queen starts with a map of The Sword Coast and a very brief introduction and overview. It quickly launches into the details of Episode 1 and offers a one sentence direction to view Appendix A for more information on character hooks for the adventure. Flipping to page 87, Appendix A lists 10 different Bonds that could be used by the player to tie his or her story to the events that begin Hoard of the Dragon Queen. The Bond table (d10) can be used to augment or replace a player character’s background to connect them to the town of Greenest, which is where the campaign begins. Other than the one sentence and one-page Appendix, there is nothing that suggests how DMs can motivate players to approach the town of Greenest.
Rachael Bowen, 2nd level Elven Ranger
In the middle of the summer, the Codename: Morningstar project was announced, stating it would be a companion application for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. News about the project has trickled out over the past two months, and the name has officially been changed to DungeonScape. During that time, I have been in communication with Rachael Bowen, Community/Support Manager with Trapdoor Technologies, the company who is bringing DungeonScape to life.
In the interview below, Ms. Bowen discusses her background, the volatile dynamics of the gaming industry, how Trapdoor Technologies partnered with Wizards of the Coast, the demonstration of DungeonScape at this year’s Gen Con, and how DungeonScape hopes to increase its footprint in the future. She also shared the official icon for the DungeonScape app, which you can see below – but read her interview first!
I was reviewing your background and noted that you are quite the Renaissance woman having earned a degree in Studio Art/Photography and being certified as a Nutrition Educator and Yoga Teacher. Now you are the Customer Care Officer at Trapdoor Technologies, the company that is creating the “Official Companion App for the Dungeons & Dragons Tabletop Roleplaying Game.” What has that ride been like for you? How did one career arc flow into the others?
I suppose I am kind of a Renaissance lady – of course I had no idea growing up that I would be making a career in games. I wanted to be an acrobat! I grew up loving video games and was the neighbor kid that wanted to hang out all the time simply to maximize playtime on your original Nintendo. My parents would not allow me to have my own console for years so I was even more excited by games because they were a forbidden fruit in my house. I finally got a Nintendo 64 and logged countless hours in Goldeneye Multiplayer, Super Mario, Ocarina of Time and Perfect Dark. After that I moved onto PlayStation, and fell very much in love with the Final Fantasy series and never really changed.