January 31, 2012

Scope and Scale

4E has taken the time to explain the Scope and Scale of a campaign and detailed this as Tiers: Heroic, Paragon and Epic. Personally I like this method as it helps define a campaign and make sure it progresses. However, I think their examples of Scope can and probably should be defined differently.

Let’s first talk about what I mean by Scale. Scale is mostly mechanic. It is the levels of the monsters and the abilities they have access to. As a campaign progresses this Scale increases so you are fighting monsters capable of continuing to challenge the player characters. The campaign scales up in response to the increase in player character levels.
In 4E this means the adversaries now have access to more abilities, in addition to increased combat numbers. At Paragon Tier they usually have an extra encounter power and at Epic another one and probably another daily power. Also at Epic Tier a lot of the monsters start having abilities that negate some of the player character’s abilities to “lock” them down.

For Scope, I mean the things they encounter in relation to the campaign setting and this is where I recommend a divergence from the ideas put forth in the Core books.
The DM’s Guide defines Heroic Tier as village-sized; this is where the PCs encounter “small” challenges that do not affect much beyond a village or city level within the setting. Paragon moves the PCs into adventures that affect nations. At the start of the Epic Tier they recommend moving this Scope up to world affecting adventures. Then as the campaign reaches the end of the Epic Tier, adventures focus on fighting gods and saving the universe.

I say it is possible to reduce the Scope of a campaign. There is no reason why the Heroic Tier can not remain in one place as normal; perhaps investigating a local forest. Done properly this could easily occupy the PCs all the way through Heroic Tier. At Paragon Tier the PCs now have to save the local duchy or larger city. With a good layering of intrigue and the standard dungeon crawls it would be easy to keep the PCs in that one location until Epic Tier. And once they get to Epic Tier they would be saving the kingdom from invasion or corruption. They would never have to save the world or leave the planet.

In fact, 4E is actually designed to keep the PCs at this lower Scope. Even at the highest Scale (level 30) they still have a reduced Scope. They can not move mountains, their breath does not knock over a forest, they can not leap over oceans. They are not gods. The PCs actually function at a much lower Scope.

However, how do you reconcile Scope with Scale? Most published Epic adventures feature gods, demon lords and elder dragons. It makes sense that these types of adversaries are of Epic Scale and Scope. However, because of the diminished Scope the PCs will not be fighting these types of monsters. They will instead be fighting things that also fall into a smaller Scope.

And herein lays the quandary. It seems contrary to have level 30 PCs fighting goblins (it does not feel right in Scope). Likewise, it would not make sense if there was a level 30 goblin running around the world; it runs against our biases and “logic” as gamers (it does not feel right in Scale). In this case, Scope (Epic) and Scale (Level 30) would not mesh up. A DM needs to find adversaries that are Epic in Scale while still falling within the Scope of the campaign.

One way to do this is to keep to adversaries that are similar to the PCs. If it makes sense that the PCs are level 30, with all of the abilities therein, then it also makes sense that another member of that race also would have those or similar abilities. It is easier for a player to reconcile fighting a troop of level 30 human knights than a band of level 30 goblins.

Another is to stick to variable level monsters. Dragons run across a broad range of levels, so fighting one at level 10 and another at level 30 makes sense. It does not have to be a world-eating elder dragon, but rather a venerable dragon that has slept for the past 200 years.
A side option here is to “save” these variable level monsters for higher Scale and Scope. Don’t throw a dragon against them at level 10 even though you have monsters stats for them at that level. “Save” the dragons as encounters until level 25+. At level 10 throw elite goblins at the PCs.

With this diminished style of Scope it is possible to run “grittier” campaigns instead of the high fantasy 4E seems to have as a default. Scope does not have to end with universe shattering adventures. It can still remain “small” within the campaign setting.

January 27, 2012

5E Friday

1) So the 5E playtest seems to have gone out to several people last week from various blog posts made. Of particular interest to me is that thus far it looks like it has predominantly been going to "old-school" sites. This makes sense to me, as the concepts behind 5E seem to be geared toward the "old-school" crowd. However, I have to hope they do not forgo the 4E or 3E (Pathfinder) bloggers. I know this is the second wave of public playtest (with the initial one being geared toward media and did include some 4E bloggers) but if WoTC wants to not alienate anyone they need to take an even handed approach. There are many good 4E and 3E sites out there (certainly better than this one) so they should have plenty to choose from.

2) Hit Points. The high amount of hit points seen in 4E has been cited as a cause of long combats and on some level they are right. However, I do not to go back to starting level 1 characters with 2 hit points. I firmly believe having a larger hp pool allows for more wiggle room for building encounters (can throw in a wider range of monsters) and adding in optional character perks (a feat that grants +5 hp is significant if a starting character only has 2, but not as significant if a starting character has 20). But at the same time I understand large hp pools can/will create hp slog fights. Instead, I would like a large-ish starting hp pool (around 10-20) and then smaller increases as the character levels (around 1-3 per level gain).

January 24, 2012

The Truth of Fudging

“Not fudging is important.”
“Let the dice fall where they may.”
“There has to be the chance of unavoidable failure in order for there to be success.”
“Balance is a crutch and bane to good gaming.”

Every single DM who ever said they espouse these statements and sentiments is a liar, even if they don't realize it. 

If they were telling the truth that would mean encounters would be designed to function truly irrespective of the players. The ancient red dragon would construct his lair to the best of its ability. There would be no escape passages; instead there would be a trap that the dragon would trigger to block off any possible escape by his meal-to-be. There would be no longsword +3 of dragon slaying hidden in the room right before the dragon’s nest. There would be multiple means of detecting the characters long before they reached him and then he would be prepared instead of asleep. The dragon would be smart enough to have heard all the stories of overconfident dragons slain by heroes and would not make the same mistakes. The dragon would not be 200 years old and an idiot. In brief, the dragon would be a sure and unavoidable kill of the player characters.

The thing is, DMs fudge a combat encounter long before the dice are rolled. The actual rolling of dice becomes an after-effect. This is done with a wide variety of methods…

·        Make sure any possible encounters are balanced with the player characters in mind.
·        Make sure there is a possibility of escape for the players.
·        Make sure the players are given ample opportunity to forgo the encounter.
·        Make sure the monster has an exploitable weakness.
·        Make sure the characters are given an equalizing item.
·        Make sure there is a powerful NPC to bail the characters out.
·        Make sure the characters are not killed, but rather “captured”.
·        Make sure an undefeatable encounter is placed behind an impassable barrier, until such time as the characters reach the appropriate level.
·        Make sure to forgo a lethal monster ability at certain times. 

In my 4E sandbox, I openly state to the players, “Let the dice fall where they may”. All my die rolls are made out in the open; I can not take back a critical hit on a dying character. There is no fudging of die rolls. All my encounters are pre-built and pre-placed; if the characters run into an encounter far above their level, I will not alter the encounter. There is no guarantee of a balanced encounter.

However…I have mechanics in place that allow the players characters to assess a potential encounter for lethality before they engage. I allow for escapes/running away. I sometimes “forget” to use a lethal ability. In short, I fudge encounters….just like everyone else…well, not like everyone else, since every DM has their own way of fudging encounters.

And that’s my point. With the wide range of fudging techniques it is disingenuous to come down on someone for implementing balanced encounters or “misreading” a die roll. So instead of lying to yourself, take a look at what you are truly doing…and then realize there are other methods for doing the same thing you already are.

January 20, 2012

5E Friday

After last week's announcement on the next version of D&D, I've taken the past week to mull it over and take in all the various thoughts/blogs on the topic. I've decided to give Friday over to putting out some of my random thoughts on the topic of D&D5E.

Monte Cook made an interesting comment in his weekly Legends and Lore article.

"Imagine a game where the core essence of D&D has been distilled down to a very simple but entirely playable-in-its-right game. Now imagine that the game offered you modular, optional add-ons that allow you to create the character you want to play while letting the Dungeon Master create the game he or she wants to run."

This is not brand new information. Mike Mearls said pretty much the same thing in his announcement and Monte Cook has hinted at much the same over past L&L articles. However, the question on most people's minds is 'Can this be accomplished?' 'Is it even possible?'

And then I read this later in the article, "Second—and this sounds so crazy that you probably won't believe it right now—we're designing the game so that not every player has to choose from the same set of options."

The first time I read this statement, it struck me that the design team has already accomplished their goals of a "simple, basic, core" system. I believe they already have a system in place (it's obvious they already have a system done) that they feel meets these goals of providing a core system. They believe it can be accomplished and that they already have that system built. I think the real question now is (and I believe it is also foremost on their own minds as well), will their system meet the needs of everyone?

I don't think the play-testing and feedback is being looked at as a means to create the system, but rather, to be used to make sure it does what WotC already think it does. If nothing else, the "new" system will be interesting to take a look at.

January 17, 2012

The Best DM Screen

Through the years there have been a multitude of DM Screens. Here is an attempt to showcase them in order. I suspect some may be out of order or missing completely. (I did not include every screen such as the settign specific ones, like the Eberron one, though I did decide to throw in the Kingdoms of Kalamar one since it is the monster on the bunch.)

Which is your favorite? It could be because it had the best artwork or was the most useful, but which do you like the best?

January 13, 2012

Bushido City - Sawara

Similar to yesterday's post, this is another city I wrote up for the Bushido RPG long ago. Click on it for a larger view.

January 12, 2012

Bushido City - Tsu-Chiura

Similar to yesterday's post, this is another city I wrote up for the Bushido RPG long ago. Click on it for a larger view.

January 11, 2012

Bushido City - Naka-Mura

Similar to yesterday's post, this is another city I wrote up for the Bushido RPG long ago. Click on it for a larger view.

January 10, 2012

Bushido City - Mito

While digging around my old material I came across some city maps I did up for Bushido, the FGU RPG. This material is over 20 years old so bear that in mind. A mention on the notation. The first number is related to the list on the left, the second number after the dash is a sequence to differentiate the same types from each other. So if 4 is a Temple, 4-2 is Temple #2. You should be able to click on the map for a closer look.

January 9, 2012

Wanted: 27

This is another in the series of "wanted" posters that can be found within a campaign setting. This is the last one for now.

-Cult leader. Lots of good creepy lairs to explore as the characters track this one down. Sedition involves going against the government, so for some reason this cult wants to see the downfall of the local government. This can allow for the cult blackmailing members of the government or even highly placed government officials being members of the cult. Once word gets out that the party is looking for Lucious, they may find numerous obstacles suddenly appear in their way.

January 4, 2012

Another Bushido Adventure

I have been moving some stuff from storage back onto my gaming shelves. Here is an old Bushido, the old FGU RPG, adventure I wrote 20 or so years ago. Honestly I couldn't tell you if the stats are right or anything anymore but here it is anyway. If nothing else it may provide some ideas for someone's adventure , even if it isn't for Bushido.

"The Golden Bird"

Adventure Plot
A curse affects the family of Daimyo Hitachi No-Kami Numin Muetozi. For the past two generations (since his grandfather) whenever the eldest Numin reaches the age of 35 their body begins to deteriorate. This is because his grandfather didn't destroy an ancient jewel which is now hidden in the Golden Bird. Now the Bird is lost and the characters must find it.
However, two other groups want it also. Daimyo Shimosa-No-Kami Awai Noku wants the jewel for his private collection (he is an obsessive collector of gems) and the Muno monastery want it for its magical properties.

January 3, 2012

A Bushido Adventure

I have been moving some stuff from storage back onto my gaming shelves. Here is an old Bushido, the old FGU RPG, adventure I wrote 20 or so years ago. Honestly I couldn't tell you if the stats are right or anything anymore but here it is anyway. If nothing else it may provide some ideas for someone's adventure , even if it isn't for Bushido.

"Nothing is Certain in Life, Except Death and Taxes" 

Adventure Plot
Daimyo Hitachi No-Kami Numin Muetozi is gathering a small group together to check out one of his eastern villages, Anumura. The last two months no taxes have been sent to the capitol at Mito and the Daimyo is concerned. Thus the group is to see what, if anything, has happened to the village and collect the taxes (45 koku).
The village, Anumura, has been overrun by Yakuza and they presently have secret control over the village.

January 2, 2012

Wanted: 26

This is another in the series of "wanted" posters that can be found within a campaign setting.

-What are the Elder Kings? I have no idea and it really doesn't matter. Will they find out what the Elder Kings are? Only the DM knows that. Perhaps they are known by another name in his campaign. Perhaps they are only fictional stories based on nothing of substance. This is really just an opportunity for the players to do some dungeon exploring.