July 25, 2014

5E Friday

Finally I'll take a look at the Starter Set and Basic Rules...

-What is the "job" of the Starter Set? To provide those who have not played D&D an easy to handle and comprehend method to learn what D&D is and how to play it. Does it do its job? Yes. All the rules needed to play are laid out. The only thing missing is the character generation rules, but characters are provided including how to level them up (which I like since I believe character leveling is an important thing to learn).

-Interesting that they went with an Ability based system. It could be said that D&D has always been an Ability based system, but I would say that each edition kept moving away from such a thing, downplaying Ability over the other powers a class had. 5E goes back to an Ability based system, perhaps even more so than even 1E was.

-The Ability rolls are mostly random. A step above just rolling just 3d6 per sat...or even 4d6 drop 1 stat in order. Still...with an Ability driven system it could get painful. So many things rest of the stats. Of course they do offer alternate stat generation systems. I suspect this one will be house ruled to each groups taste.

-Advantage/Disadvantage will work very nicely. Last week I wrote a fairly long piece on Advantage. I'm looking forward to seeing it in play.

-Saving Throws. Again Ability based. Different from 1E but should still work fine. In fact, keeps it simple - no added categories or mechanics to remember. More elegant.

-Skills were gutted. The reliance on them has been limited. The number of them has been reduced. Right now there are no ways to get more, however, I suspect if a group adds feats then there will be a way in the PHB.

-Races. The basic 4, good to see. I also like that they have no negative stats (that always annoyed me). Also I like that they have room to grow for new races. Each race has several perks. If they only had 1 or 2 it would be harder to add new races that are diverse enough. Adding in new races will be easy. I also liked the subraces. Now instead of adding "aquatic elves" and giving them a 3 page write-up with new stats...you just add a paragraph as a sub-race.

-Classes. Basic 4 again. They work. Again they have enough "perks" that creating a new class allows for enough "wiggle room" to add new concepts instead of only 1 new idea. Also again the Archetypes will be very interesting. Instead of creating a whole new class an Archetypes will likely handle it.

-Pet Peeve. Both the Starter Set and Basic Rules go out of their way to make mention that you always round down...and then the Fighter/Champion Archetype has you round up for the Remarkable Athlete ability. I know that specific rules trump general rules, but why break the rule in the first book. Is it really a rule if we start breaking it right away?

-Inspiration. Not sold on it yet. Seems nice but I suspect it will be a "necessary" perk before long i.e. people will expect to always have Inspiration.

-Backgrounds. Nice. However, I wonder if its overkill. Classes have their core abilities, then Archetypes, now Backgrounds. In effect when making a character you have 3 choices to make (4 if you count Race). It's nice for individuality but seems a bit much. Still it does allow for customization.

-Multiclassing. I worry that we'll have every Wizard going 1 level in Fighter for the Proficiencies they would get, like wearing armor. However, we'll have to see the PHB to see how it actually works.

-Will I play it? I'm not going to drop my current campaigns, but I will likely use 5E for my next campaign once those wind down. Also, I was writing a campaign for Savage Worlds that I'll now do up as a 5E game.

July 22, 2014

Christmas in July Sale and Us

DrivethruRPG and RPGNow are having their annual Christmas in July Sale. For the first time ever we have two products up for the Sale. There is...

Marketplace: 26 shops for any fantasy based setting.
Adventure At Goldmarsh: A system neutral (but in the OSR mold) adventure and town setting.

If you were waiting to pick them up, or never even realized they existed, now's your chance!
And thanks!

July 18, 2014

5E Friday - Role Vs Roll and Player vs Character

Very quick one today...

-I'm loving the Advantage/Disadvantage, but for a slightly different reason than most people do.

For me there has always been a slight disconnect between role-playing and roll-playing especially in social encounters.  On one hand, as a DM, I want the players to act out/role-play social encounters. If they are bluffing their way past a guard I want them to speak the words their character is saying. If they are trying to convince a sheriff to back their assault on a cult lair, I want to know how they are asking. On the other hand, sometimes a player just wants to roll his appropriate social skill.
Corollary to that is the disconnect between character and player. A player may not be good at improvising a speech during a social encounter. The player knows their limitations and thus compensates by loading up social skills specifically so they can do well in them with their character despite the fact they as a player is bad at it. If I, as a DM, require the player to act out the social encounter they will likely do poorly and thus likely gain a negative to their roll...which is exactly what the player is trying to avoid. The flip side of this is the player who puts nothing into their character's social skills because they know they can do well with social encounters simply because they, as a player, is good at role-playing.

Now I could ignore the role-playing aspect and only allow the die rolls to apply, but this is a role-playing game. I want to encourage role-play...not allow the dice to dictate outcomes with no input from the players. I could also ignore die rolls and base results purely on the role-playing aspect, but again we have the disconnect between player ability (player with poor social skills) and character ability (character with excellent social skills).

In the past, I've always done a hybrid version. Allow for role-playing which can add a negative or positive modifier to the die roll. But they always felt like half-measures. Either the bonus is too little to make the role-play "worth it" or too high so that the die roll practically doesn't matter. And, of course, there is always the issue of the subjectivity of it all; was the role-playing worth +2 or +5 or +10?

Which brings me back to 5E and Advantage/Disadvantage. In the sample adventure (which by the way is so much more than a "sample adventure") they simply state that during one of the social encounters ("can we prove ourselves to the monster that we are being nice to her") the person making the die roll gains an Advantage if they role-played the social interaction well. No muss, no fuss. Was the role-playing done well? If yes, gain an Advantage die. If not, resort to the standard die roll. There are no varying degrees of "should it be +2 or +5". Either it was a pass (good role-play) or fail (bad role-play) with the reward being a clear advantage to the die roll.

This makes social encounters so much easier to adjudicate.

And so many other situations. Did the player do an awesome job describing how she leaped onto the table, sliding down the bar and slamming into the face of the drunk mercenary feet first? Give an Advantage to the attack! Basically any time a player describes a character doing something cool, give an Advantage to the action. If the player is being dull and boring (or keeps repeating the same "cool" action), go with the simple "standard" die roll.

Advantage is a concrete and simple way to implement reward for good role-playing and narration.

July 11, 2014

5E Friday

I'll be taking a closer look at the Starter Set and the Basic Rules in the future but for now I find the reaction to 5E to be interesting on its own. Bear in mind these are my personal reflections so it's likely I could be off overall...

-Reaction seems to be positive. People seem to like the old-school vibes and the blend of newer concepts. Even many of those who are not planning on playing the system speak well of it; "I like the system but I'll keep using the one I am using right now." Quite a few have stated 5E is now their system of choice. (Personally I'll wait until the PH and DMG come out to make that determination.) I haven't seen any real edition wars, certainly not on the level of 4E.

-The few negative reviews (and by negative I mean people who absolutely do not like 5E - as opposed to those who like 5E but still see some flaws with it) seem to be quibbles over minor things, often more personal than systemic.
"They used the same tired racial backgrounds instead of making elves emo-cannibals."
"You get new abilities as a character levels - never for me!"
"It's too easy to stay alive!"

-Despite the fact there is no news about a OGL or similar information and won't be before 2015, there have been some early adopters of the system. Necromancer Games/Frog God already has a Kickstarter for 3 new 5E books (and its already funded) and they've also released a 5E adventure for free. They were a solid company with 3E but they refused to adopt to 4E when it was released because they didn't like the OGL for that edition. Instead, recently they came back with a bunch of Pathfinder stuff (mostly adaptions of their earlier work, but with some new stuff as well). I find it interesting that they are jumping into 5E with both feet.

In addition, there are also some adaptions to 5E of older adventures people have put up for free. Companies and designers seem to be excited about 5E.

-"5E" seems to have won as the unofficial name of this version of D&D. Almost everyone is referring to it as 5E. WotC may simply call it Basis D&D or D&D, but 5E is likely to stay its name...and this is a good thing. There needs to be a way to talk about the latest version where everyone can understand what version they are talking about. To simply call it Basic D&D or D&D just leads to confusion. Looks like "5E" is here to stay (and D&D Next is dead as a title - thank goodness).

July 8, 2014

The Class That Isn't Needed Until It Is In Play

Tenkar's Tavern ask Is The Thief a Needed Member. He asked if the thief class is truly needed or if an adventuring party could get by without one. How important is a thief to a group? Essential or just nice to have? This got me thinking latterly...

Quite a few classes do not become needed until a player starts to play one. It is a backwards need. The thief is an excellent example of this. If no one in the party is playing a thief then a DM tends to not add traps, or run adventures that require pickpocketing or include lots of locked doors or anything that a thief excels at. Sure a DM might still add a locked door or trap but with the intent that there is nothing the party can do about them other than soaking the damage or bashing in a lock. Such DMs would not write an adventure where the adventure would stall because there is no thief in the party.

However, once a thief is being played, then suddenly there are all sorts of traps, locks and other things in adventures. Adventures will stall if that thief can't pick the lock. DMs make sure to add in things for a thief to do. It follows the mantra of "let every player shine at least once". Thus thieves and thiefly skills are not needed until a player starts playing a thief.

This expands out to other classes as well...
Once a bard joins a party, there are suddenly more "social" encounters.
Once a druid or ranger joins a party, there are suddenly more nature/animal encounters.
Once a paladin joins a party, there are suddenly more encounters with nobility.

It could even be said that the cleric/healing class follows this as well. On one hand, combat is a driving force of rpg games and thus a cleric is essential to the survival of a party. However, if for some reason there is no cleric in a party, damage scales would go down...or potions of healing would begin to be found as treasure a lot more often.

DMs react to what the players have chosen as their classes. No class is required...until a player starts playing them.