Giantlands (2021)

Contents

Premise | Character Creation | Species | Professions | Ley Powers | Mutations | Other stuff | Core Rules | The World | How do I economy? | Species pt 2 | Monsters | No bears? No bullywugs… oh god the bugs! | Is this okay? | Demo Game | You’re walking in the woods… | That’s won’t work | You guys are being attacked… | Conclusion | Unplayable, and I don’t want to fix it | Is there a setting? | Spirtual successor?

Edit: Apologies to those who struggled through the initial release, and thank you to those who pointed out the many issues in it, will continue to try to tighten them up and cut back on my ellipses addiction.

Touted by Stephen Erin Dinehart IV as his role-playing game based on his unique vision of the world, but also written entirely by James M Ward (“Jim”)1 Wikipedia James M Ward <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_M._Ward> as a kind of Native American themed, spiritual successor to Gamma World2 James M Ward & Gary Jaquet Gamma World (TSR Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 1978) – the original release of GiantLands was also modelled off the White Box3 Wikipedia Dungeons & Dragons (1974) <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeons_%26_Dragons_(1974)> release of Dungeons & Dragons.4 Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson Dungeons & Dragons (TSR Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 1974)

Dinehart regularly claims (incorrectly) to be the inventor of Narrative Design and a great master in game design space, but routinely avoids taking responsibility for not working to smooth out any issues in his game.

If you’ve found this via my write up of the GiantLands Saga, or anything connected to that – then you’re most likely already aware that the game is bad – but curious as to all the ways it is and if there’s tiny gems of goodness among the rotting debris. Also, since the game comes in three booklets I’ll be citing them separately.

Jim passed away on 18 March 2024,5 Haase-Lockwood & Associates Funeral Homes Obituary for James “Jim” Michael Ward III <https://www.haaselockwoodfhs.com/obituary/JamesJim-WardIII> with his final work widely ignored and panned, but apparently still optimistic that it could result in a theme park one day.

The Premise

The basis for the setting is that the upon re-awakening or reaching her breaking point, the spirit of the world as we know it ends the world as we know it – killing everyone as punishment for our misdeeds toward nature and creating a fresh start known as “The Great Reset”. It encourages the Spirit Keeper (who runs the game) to imagine how their world might look after such an event, but also with underground bunkers and alien spacecraft.6 James M Ward & Stephen E Dinehart GiantLands: Keepers Guide (Wonderfilled Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 2021) at 4

This results in the return of giants, not simply big humanoids but beings of immense supernatural power. As well as a new kind of human… and also robots, aliens, star ports… and all kinds of wild nonsense that never really gets explained. It’s also weirdly inconsistent – Sapiens are introduced to the players a new type of humanoid (capable of living 200 years)7 James M Ward & Stephen E Dinehart GiantLands: Spirits Guide (Wonderfilled Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 2021) but in the Keepers Guide says they were created in the 1st Age “to rival the Giants” and appear to have been present as “humans” in every age since.8 Keepers Guide, at n 6, at 16 – 17

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GiantLands – The Release

So Wonderfilled Inc’s 2022 effectively started with the release of their flagship game, GiantLands, a time of celebration and one that sets the standard for any new game publisher.

It didn’t go very well.

Issues seemed to include that overseas and Kickstarter orders go low priority, that there was a some bad weather which jeopardized delivery windows for the first rounds and… well, the reception was not great.

Also yeah… do not expect any consistency in capitalization of Giantlands vs GiantLands from Wonderfilled… the branding experts. It drives me nuts too… but this is just how they are.

Continue reading GiantLands – The Release

Lucky Dip DM’ing

Gary Gygax was famous for his love of filling books with tables, specifically tables where you would roll a dice (or two) to find an outcome or a prompt.

This summary on Futurama was both brutal but indisputable.

Tables for random encounters, tables for treasure hoards of the recently slain monsters, tables for magic items in the treasure hoards and even tables for sex workers to spend the treasure on. Indeed, long before procedurally generated video games were a trend, Dungeons & Dragons was a game where you could leave huge parts of the story in the hands of the RNG gods through dice rolls.

Notably though, this is not how Gary DM’d. By all reports he rarely looked at the books, never limited himself to the rules and almost never rolled on a table himself – instead relying on preparation and improvisation. Some people will say he included the tables for lesser DMs, or to pad out the books, but realistically he probably figured it was a more engaging way to provide prompts and information than just a plain list.

Today tables for random outcomes continue to be a regular feature in role-playing games, expansions, modules and even comic books about those things. To many the outcomes are so sacrosanct that, even in the privacy of one’s own home and a single player story, bypassing them is a biblical sin.

They’re an inescapable part of the hobby, and many people spend no small amount of time making their own tables for their own campaigns. Now, that includes me, so I’m not about to tell you that they’re inherently bad – but rather that a classic mistake is to rely on them – up there with relying on “a rare roll must always have an extraordinary result”.

Both are symptoms of assigning too much authority to dice, usually out of insecurity about one’s ability to perform their role – so instead outsourcing it to an inanimate object or two.

Continue reading Lucky Dip DM’ing

Common and racial tongues in D&D

D&D has always had an odd approach to languages. While J. R. R. Tolkien can probably be blamed for the normalizing of racial languages in the fantasy setting, D&D never limited itself to that approach – taken as a whole, the classic D&D approach to language was…

…it was weird.

There were specifically nations, separate cultures with separate histories… but no languages associated with those – instead we had:

Racial Languages: Elf, Dwarf, Orcish, etc
Profession Languages: Druidic
Sub Languages: Thieves Cant was a form of coded language that required speaking a base language
Alignment Languages: Yeah, you could speak Lawful Good. The premise was that alignments were real cosmic forces, their were cults built around them, and hence their were cults who had their own languages to communicate in secret (which every adventurer knows one and only one).
Default language: Common, Trade Tongue… like there’s just a language made to be lingua franca, the Esperanto of these fantasy worlds… only it actually is wide spread.

I’m not going to touch on the Sub Languages or Alignment Tongues, but I did want to address what I consider the weirdest parts: Common tongue and racial tongues.

Between universal languages and cross compatible currencies – the distinctions between nations were usually alignment, and aesthetic. That kind of functioned for simply dungeon crawls, but didn’t lend itself well to world building or lore creation – because these don’t hold up to how language works in any shape or form – I mean, when was the last time you spoke “Human”?

These days there’s an effort to mix in cultural languages etc, but it always seems to fall back on depending on Common… the weirdest language. This is a real shame since it essentially locks the value of languages behind specialist scenarios, and eliminates opportunities like needing translators, confusion or ambiguity in translations, culture shock in language, etc.

Continue reading Common and racial tongues in D&D

TSR LLC vs Wizards of the Coast LLC – FIGHT!

During 2022 and 2023 there were numerous disasters engaged in by nuTSR, most of which are pending a final resolution – but the most spectacular and all reaching was the lawsuit of TSR LLC against Wizards of the Coast LLC. Many of these aspects were not easily understood by someone without a background in law or intellectual property.

Prelude

It can be safely assumed that once the intention to use the old TSR Inc trademarks became public, Wizards of the Coast would have instructed legal counsel to write polite, but firm, letters to TSR LLC advising them that they did not have the right to do so. The exact details provided etc are not available to the public, but it is an all but mandatory courtesy in these situations.

This seems to have worked to a certain degree, as the following trademarks were surrendered/abandoned without a fight:

But well… for the rest…. they decided to fight…

Continue reading TSR LLC vs Wizards of the Coast LLC – FIGHT!

So you want to license…

Okay, so Open RPG Creative (ORC) is out and a lot of people want to know whether they should use it or another license… and sadly ORC doesn’t really provide a lot of guidance one how to do that – its jargon laden text reads like something written by a copyright lawyer for copyright lawyers… hang on…

…I am being told Brian Lewis of Azora Law, lead on the ORC project, is a copyright lawyer who works in a firm of copyright lawyers.

Well that explains a lot.

So, here’s your quick and dirty primer to understanding licenses and which is right for you.

In case you don’t know me, my background is I’m a law student in New Zealand. I’m a not a lawyer, I’m definitely not your lawyer and what follows is not personalized legal advice and doesn’t form and sort of client-lawyer privilege. Please do not rely on blog posts for your legal advice.

Qualifying for copyright, or “does it even?”

Thanks to a generation of grifters trying to sell you fake money to buy ugly images of apes, there is a lot of confusion about what constitutes intellectual property. Most recently, that’s been compounded by grifters trying to sell subscriptions to AI programs that make drawings of big titty anime girls no matter the prompt.

It’s made even more confusing in that lots of people talk about US laws like they’re universal (looking at you ORC), when in fact they vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

For that reason the following primer is deliberately vague and doesn’t cite any particular tests, because the tests and the standards used will be determined by the jurisdictions involved.

Continue reading So you want to license…

The ORC has landed. It kinda sucks.

So Paizo has recently announced the release of their own open license, ORC, which was prompted by the OGL Fiasco. The license itself is a couple pages long and is accompanied by the an Answers & Explanations (“ORC AxE”) document to be referenced and used as evidence of intentions.

And it kinda sucks.

If you don’t know me, I’m a Law student in New Zealand and I have experience in fraud investigation for online payment gateways – a role that requires a lot of deciphering all kind of documents and regulations. I’m not a lawyer, I’m definitely not your lawyer – nothing in this is personalized legal advice or forms a client-lawyer relationship. Please do not get your personalized legal advice from blogs.

Background

If you somehow missed it, in January 2023 there was a fiasco where various people reported receiving a leaked document. The leak proposed that Wizards of the Coast was in the process of repealing the sacrosanct Open Gaming License and replace it with a new one that came with content limitations and proposed to charge a fee to the top 1% of creators.

Eventually a copy made it’s way to Gizmodo journalist Linda Codega (they/them) and an objectively bad article (Gizmodo’s fault, not Linda’s, that’s how editorial responsibility works) was released. Opening Arguments summarized it as “a hit piece”, but I think that’s inaccurate – the simple fact is that Linda and the wider collection of Tabletop Role-Playing Games (“TTRPG”) commentators didn’t understand how contracts, intellectual property and business work. Gizmodo for it’s part, didn’t seem to care beyond making sure they were not likely to be sued – so didn’t provide their write who mostly does reviews any

Riots ensued. Platform after platform pivoted into talking about the OGL. A weird conspiracy theory that independent YouTuber Ginny Di was Wizards of the Coast executive insider. It was chaos.

During this mayhem, Paizo came forth, promising they would be creating a new open license, the Open RPG Creative (ORC), which would be irrevocable and perfect for all matters relating to gaming. It initially teased the idea of all kinds of over the top efforts, such as putting it in the hands of a non-profit, but ultimately was drafted by Azora Law (managed by Brian Lewis, who drafted the original OGL 1.0a) and a Discord server was set up for the “community”.

Eventually Wizards of the Coast abandoned all attempts to reform the Open Gaming License, and put all content currently covered under it into the Creative Commons – effectively washing their hands and moving on. But the development of ORC continued.

Paizo would release three drafts and now the final (interim) draft has been released to the public, with a promise that Paizo itself will start looking into how to apply it to their own products.

Continue reading The ORC has landed. It kinda sucks.

D&D Currencies – Five approaches

Perhaps one of the greatest bane’s of the mid-level Dungeons & Dragon party is trying to sort out and determine all the money they have so they can determine how much they need to spend on provisions for the next adventure, whether they can afford that hot pink magical backpack and how much they will have for amnesia inducing carousing afterwards.

Without a doubt, the problems magnify exponentially if you limit yourself to the traditional currencies and then use encumbrance rules – creating scenarios where parties are actively spending all their coins before going out on adventure again so that they can have capacity to carry loot out of the next dungeon that they visit.

The default system has many drawbacks, one being that it makes actual estimations of value and pricing a nightmare to track – which has invariably led to bizarre economic situations where parties crash local economies due to insisting on carrying only the most valuable coins in the vast hoards they keep in interdimensional pockets, or spend staggering fortunes before going out on another adventure purely so they can have capacity to carry out treasure after their next victory but are never sure how much anything costs without looking up a book out of character.

Continue reading D&D Currencies – Five approaches

GiantLands – The road to finishing a “finished” RPG

So, having burned countless bridges and decided that he no longer needed to partner with TSR LLC to publish his game that he previously couldn’t publish – Dinehart had a whole bunch of issues to deal with:

It was not an ideal situation – particularly given that Dinehart had no clout in the TTRPG industry before he started this fiasco, and somehow managed to have even less at this point and he is… not the best at diligent attention to detail, as demonstrated by the first version of the transfer from TSR Games to Wonderfilled Games site showcased.4 My Twitter, 8 July 2021 https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1412872199174643714 5 My Twitter, 8 July 2021 https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1413027319589924873

He also seemed to keep the TSR shirts on his online store for an awkward amount of time.6 My Twitter, 8 July 2021, https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1413074953193213963

Continue reading GiantLands – The road to finishing a “finished” RPG

Those Pesky Goblinz by Justin LaNasa

Hot off the presses, the nuTSR group (TSR LLC, Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum LLC, Justin LaNasa) has released a “new” product… weeks ahead of the opening for pre-order date, by listing it on Amazon via their Print On Demand service. It is unclear why they opted to do both print-on-demand and a pre-order bulk print system… but that’s the least of the problems.

The product is, in summary: an playable mess of useless gibberish that radiates contempt for creators of role-playing games, for people who enjoy role-playing games and that mostly showcases the inadequacies and insecurities of the creator. It’s also an interesting study in when a rip-off reaches the point of copyright infringement through being an unauthorized derivative work.

David Flor has done a great job in breaking down many of the failings in a Twitter thread here, and Tom has done a feature.

So I wanted to talk about some of the more complex issues that don’t fit into 280 characters or reasonable sized videos (let me know if you think I should doe a Noah Caldwell-Gervais style essay).

Continue reading Those Pesky Goblinz by Justin LaNasa