May 30, 2012

Silver Gryphon Games Are Good Guys

This past Friday I was looking at my Drivethrurpg wish list and they were having a "wish list sale". Since the sale was going to end soon (it's already ended) I went ahead and did an order. One of those items was for the print version of Zombacalypse for Savage Worlds by Silver Gryphon Games. Since it was a print version it was not part of the sale but I figured I'd get it anyway.

That afternoon I got an email from Kevin Rohan of Silver Gryphon Games. He was letting me know that they were running a Memorial Day Weekend Sale and that I had overpaid by 20%. Since the item had been on my wishlist it missed the sale they were having. He then hooked me up so I got the difference back. The thing is he and his company did not have to do that. They could have just let the transaction go through and "missed" the mistake. But they didn't. Heck, it wasn't even a mistake and they didn't have to do such a thing at all. But they did.

So, Silver Gryphon Games, thanks for standing out from the crowd! And I look forward to reading Zombacalypse.

May 29, 2012

My NPCs are Lame - On Purpose

I'll admit it, my NPCs are lame. They are not memorable, they don't have quirks, they are boring to interact with. While I truly admire DMs who can make their NPCs come alive, it is not a skill I have. I am lousy when it comes to acting or making unique voices. I forget the quirks of an NPC from one night to the next. But part of me doesn't care. Part of me makes my NPCs lame on purpose.

I have always felt that the player characters are the center of an adventure and a campaign. While an interesting NPC can make for a memorable night, it can also detract from the players. There is the obvious mistake of having a favorite NPC do for the PCs instead of letting the PCs do it themselves; wherein the PCs are viewers instead of doers.
There is also the more subtle mistake of an NPC interaction taking an inordinate amount of time from an evenings adventure. If a night turns into "hey, look at this NPC" something has gone wrong. Too often, DMs use interesting NPCs as a form of entertainment  instead of letting the PCs drive the entertainment. It becomes a case of "look at the unique/funny/interesting/amusing NPC and let him entertain you. Your PCs are no longer of interest, look at the NPCs."
Also, to be honest, interesting NPCs are a distraction. Really, who cares if the barkeep talks with a lisp if he says nothing that will get the players into the action. Do the players really need to know that the owner of the general store is addicted to ice cream if it will never have meaning for the PCs? Sure, the mayor likes to wear purple fringed hats with owl feathers in it, but what does that have to do with the PCs?

My basic philosophy is that if the NPC is not an integral part of the adventure, then gloss over that NPC; relegate the NPC to the background. Move onto something that showcases the PCs.

This is not to say there should not be interesting NPCs in a campaign, just that they should not be the focus. Interesting NPCs should be used to shine the spotlight on the PCs. Use a memorable NPC to make the interaction and information that NPC provides for the PCs memorable. When the PCs walk away from an encounter they should remember that something happened to them there, not that there was something unusual about the NPC; the NPC should be secondary to what happened.

I don't make NPCs exciting to show off my acting skills or creativeness. I make NPCs exciting to make what the players are doing more memorable. And thus, the majority of my NPCs are lame.

May 25, 2012

5E Friday

- ENWorld had an excellent interview with Mike Mearls about 5E. Since it fell outside of the WotC site it may have been missed, but if you are at all interested in 5E (or just curious) you can check it out here. Some tidbits...

"For more complex interrupts, like those that require die rolls or decisions, I’d prefer the interrupt to take away part of your next turn...In essence, you’re taking your action ahead of time rather than getting two actions during a round."
Interesting idea and one I think will work well.

"When we looked at race, class, theme, and background, we decided to make background 100% focused on exploration and interaction...The key is that classes provide you with all the baseline combat abilities you need, so if you take a class and a background you’re covered in the three pillars."
Interesting concept. Seems like they are really trying to get away from the combat-centric feel of 4E. Not that I minded the feel of 4E, but I know a lot of other people were lost without the blatant non-combat abilities. 

"...I’d love it if you could play the game without them (themes)..."
Good. I was a little worried the the concept of themes were going to become too prevalent. I'm not sure we need mini-classes which is what themes were shaping up to become.

"We decided to remove the henchmen rule from the game for the time being, primarily because we felt it wasn’t something that we could assume all groups would need in the core. I anticipate it will be a rules module..."
A little disappointed in this. I think it will be harder to include it in the rules without causing imbalance down the road. This means it will likely be unbalancing or ineffectual. 

-Another excellent interview with Mike Mearls can be found at Kobold Quarterly. It was run by Wolfgang Baur, one of the luminaries in the D&D/RPG community. This interview was done with the NDA lifted so Mike was a bit more forthcoming with specifics. And there a lot of interesting things here.

"With D&D Next, the sense of D&D traditions does roll off the page..." Wolfgang Baur
While I am not stuck on the "must feel like 1E or older D&D" it is nice to hear such things from someone not part of WotC.

"...we feel that innovation should start at the edge of the system and work its way to the middle as people accept organic approach like that is better for the game."
Again something I like to hear. Forcing new mechanics for the sake of having new mechanics is detrimental. 

"Can you level up in a theme?" Wolfgang
"Yes, as you level up you gain more theme benefits." Mike
Themes again seem to come across as mini-classes. As I already mentioned I am hesitant with this avenue, but maybe it will be cool.

"...given in to the idea that RPGs are this niche thing that few people want to play. That’s crazy. Tons and tons of people want to play RPGs. It’s time we let them!"
Seems like they are trying to make D&D mainstream. The early comments in this section mentioned keeping the rules easy to pick up and play with; read the rules and play in 15 minutes. Make it accessible to everyone, even the non-rpg gamers.

"I found it easy to convert my regular Midgard game to the D&D Next playtest rules..."
Good to know. 

-The NDA on the previous batch of playtesters has been lifted for some of them. Here at Gaming Tonic he lets us know what the system was like pre this current iteration. The one that came out yesterday is likely significantly different than the one Gaming Tonic was playtesting. It will be interesting to see how things have changed.

May 22, 2012

Quick Tip - Easy and Free Music for the Game

There have been numerous blog posts about the importance of music during a game. It can set a tone or mood for the play session. One easy way to set up a theme based musical night is to tap into the resources of Pandora. For those who are unaware of it, Pandora is an internet radio station. The cool thing about it is that you can set up Stations that play the same type of music.

For instance, I like the grand, epic orchestral music with a modern beat to it. One band along that line is Epica and by creating a Station based off of Epica it plays songs from that band, but also from similar bands in style. Thus it will randomly choose and play music along that theme.

Want something lighter, such as some Celtic or string music for background music? Simply start a new Station with the name of a band or song that falls within your desired style. This also works excellently for more modern campaigns, where you can tap into some Rave or similar music for a Vampire game. The best part is that all you do is start the Station and Pandora will continue to pick and play the right (mostly) music.

Ok, the best part is really that it is all for free. While there are pay options that will remove the commercials (one about every 5 songs) and allow for other perks, the free version works very well as background music for a night of role-play.

May 18, 2012

5E Friday

-Balancing Wizards in D&D. I can't say I am happy with some of the thoughts in this article.

"We think that making cantrips a bit more powerful..." - The whole concept behind the cantrip is that they are not powerful. As soon as you make them powerful they are no longer cantrips, but rather regular spells. Down the road will we see "less-than-cantrip" spells that are less powerful than the new up-powered cantrips?
Sounds like they are making cantrips 1st level spells and at-wills, while leaving the old 1st level spells non-at-wills. Seems a round-a-about way of handling the issue. Why not leave cantrips weak and select 1st level spells as at-wills?

"We're thinking that wizard spells scale only if they are prepared with higher-level slots." - This, in effect, reduces how many spells a wizard wants to know (which is a desired goal as mentioned in the article) but also negates past history. Spells like the iconic magic missile, fireball and lightning bolt are all scalable and have been for decades. If we ignore any "stuck-in-the-past" ideas, I still don't like the idea. By not allowing spells to be scalable you are making low level spells useless and undesirable. If they are already planning on reducing the numbers of spells/uses this would be a double-punch of reduction.

"The current proposal is that a wizard who takes damage has a chance to miscast his or her next spell. A wizard can always instead choose to do something else or use a cantrip without risk of failure." - So, not only does the soft and squishy wizard take damage that he can ill-afford but now he is further penalized by not being able to do his job effectively...cast spells. Another double-whammy of pain. Can't say I like the concept. I would prefer such a "spellcasting-is-dangerous" methodology to be an add-on where the risks involved are balanced with the rewards. Seems like one of the designers likes the concept of spellcasting-is-dangerous as used in other systems but they haven't thought it through completely. This is not something that has been in any core D&D and thus it also does not feel like D&D.

The article goes on with more of the same.
The focus of the article seemed to be all about how to rein in the power of the wizard. Less spells, no scaling, misfiring of spells, making scrolls useless, remove/diminish buff spells. Personally, I would like to see them keep wizards on par with where they are now and have been in the past, but with balance. With 4E, instead of reducing wizard power they simply elevated everyone else up to the power level of wizards. It looks like in 5E they want to lower wizards down to everyone else. Not sure I like that.

May 15, 2012

Lords of Waterdeep as an RPG Adventure Generator

Lords of Waterdeep is a fairly popular board game recently released by WotC. And in my estimation it is fun. However, it would also make an excellent random adventure generator, especially useful on those nights when you have to prepare something in a hurry or are stuck for an idea while you prep.

Simply ask yourself a series of questions and draw a card from the game...

-Who is hiring the PCs? Draw a Lord of Waterdeep card.
-What is the known part of the quest? Draw a Quest card.
-What is the hidden part of the quest? Draw a second Quest card.
-What is the complication/twist? Draw an Intrigue card.
-Who is opposing the PCs? Draw a Lord of Waterdeep card. 

From there is just a matter of combining the various elements into a cohesive adventure. Here is an example of how you can piece it together... 

-Who is hiring the PCs? Nindil Jalbuck - A doppelganger posing as a halfling priest. Piety and Skullduggery.
-What is the quest? Raid on Undermountain- "Mount an expedition into the dangerous depths of Undermountain, and untold riches will be ours."
-What is the hidden part of the quest? Procure Stolen Goods - "Marune the Masked, one of the Shadow Thieves, needs to move some interesting merchandise."
-What is the complication/twist? Free Drinks - An attempt to waylay a person.
-Who is opposing the PCs? Sammereza Sulphontis - Trade Lord with Commerce and Arcana. 

Nindil approaches the PCs, likely in another guise. He claims he is looking for something specific within the Undermountain, likely a magical legacy of a god. In truth, he owes Marune a favor and is picking up some goods within the Undermountain and transporting them into the city to clear his debt. With the Undermountain being as dangerous as the rumors state, Nindil has decided to hire some adventurers to clear the way.
However, Sammeraza has gotten wind of the expedition; Marune is one of the competition. On the night before the party is to leave he casts a spell on the drinks and food of the party that will cause them to fall into a deep sleep, which will in turn cause them to miss the expedition and anger Nindil. He is hoping this will forestall the movement of goods. If the characters can overcome this attack, you have a dungeon crawl to run!  

Obviously, this works best if you are running a campaign in Waterdeep, simply because you won't have to change any of the names around. But really, it can work in just about any campaign. Just take the archetype of the cards and apply it to your own campaign setting. If you draw a Lord of Waterdeep card that calls for Piety and Skullduggery just use one with similar leanings in your own world. Essentially boil down the card to its base form. Using the sample adventure...

-Who is hiring the PCs? A doppleganger posing as a priest.
-What is the quest? Raid a local ruin.
-What is the hidden part of the quest? A master thief is using the ruin as a storage location and wants the goods moved.
-What is the complication/twist? Poison the PCs.
-Who is opposing the PCs? A smuggler that is also a magic-user. 

With 60 Quest, 50 Intrigue and 12 Lord of Waterdeep cards there are many combinations available for creating a variety of adventures.

May 14, 2012

First Loves - The RPG Version

The A-Z Challenge crowd is running a First Loves Blogfest today. This entails simply listing your first loves in the movie, song/band, book and person categories. Since this is an rpg blog, I've decided to put a spin on this and list my First Loves as they pertain to rpgs and fantasy; those movies, songs, books, person that opened me up to the fantasy genre and made me fall in love with them.

The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)

(Am I showing my age?) I saw this in a drive-in and was one of the first movies that stayed with me after the viewing (i.e. I was old enough to be cognizant of what was going on). I loved the concept of a caper going on. I also loved the mining caves sequences. The delving in the caves stuck with me and dungeon crawling seemed a natural thing to do in rpgs thereafter.
I find it interesting that the movie was a hit at the box office; it was the most successful movie for Disney throughout the entirety of the 70s and the first movie they released on videocassette.

The Riddle by Nik Kershaw (1984)

With the advent of music videos (back when there were 5 local music video only stations all competing with each other and before MTV won that war) one of the first songs to really grip me and send my mind into realms of fantasy was The Riddle. With such lyrics as...

"Near a tree by a river
There's a hole in the ground
Where an old man of Saran
Goes around and around"

"I got time to kill sly looks in corridors
Without a plan of yours a blackbird sings on bluebird hill
Thanks to the calling of the wild
Wise mens child "

The song reached no. 3 in the UK charts and was in the top 10 for many other European countries. The music video itself was a bit surreal, but had a nice fantasy feel to it.

Watership Down (1972)

I am a huge fan of Tolkien (I've actually read the Silmarillion 3 times). However, the first book to introduce me to fantasy was Watership Down. It is also the first book that I read for fun, as opposed to reading because I had to for school. It was actually a school assignment, but I ended up finishing it long before the due date simply because I loved it so much. Sure, Tolkien's writing may be my greatest love and clinched my love for fantasy, but Watership Down was my first love.

When released in the US it held the no. 1 spot for 3 months and stayed in the top 10 for a year. It has won numerous awards and in a 2003 British survey was listed as the 42nd greatest book of all time.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

This film is a fantasy. In 2008, the AFI (American Film Institute) listed the film as the 3rd best film of all time in the fantasy genre. It was in this movie that I fell in love with the character of Mary Hatch-Bailey as played by Donna Reed. She was loyal, dedicated, smart and didn't take any crap. At the time she was the perfect woman. And the fantasy portion of the movie was a lot of fun. It had extra-planar creatures with abilities beyond normal men and dastardly villains. It created an alternate world that sparked the imagination. There are many reasons why this is my favorite movie of all time.

At the time the movie was considered a failure at the box office simply because it did not live up to monetary expectations. However, since then it has become a perennial Christmas favorite. The AFI, in their 100 best movies of all time, ranked it no. 11 in 1998 and no. 20 in 2008. They also named it the no. 1 most inspirational movie of all time.

May 11, 2012

5E Friday

-I dare anyone to tell me what the perfect rpg game system is. There is none. There is no perfect rpg system. And there never will be. We all may have our favorites that we think is better than every other system out there; I know I do (Masterbook uber alles). But that search for perfection is a huge hurdle 5E will need to overcome.

People are not content to have 5E be a "good" or even "excellent" D&D; they want it to be perfect. Which it will not be. People are looking at 5E and seeing something that they do not like and writing the entire system off. That's not really fair for both 5E and themselves. What if 5E is a great D&D, but a person ignores it because they heard about that something that was "off"? They may be missing out on an awesome game that will do what they want...or not, but there is only one way to find out. But don't write something off without knowing what you are talking about...and internet hyperbole is not the way to find out.

After 5E comes out in its complete form, I am perfectly fine with people saying something along the lines of, "5E is an excellent/good/average/lame system but I prefer [insert favorite system]." It's ok to have a preferential game system; one that does what you want it to do. 

But what I don't want to hear is, "5E is lame because it's not perfect."

-Over at ENWorld, Morrus has an excellent post on the potential look and feel of 5E, specifically "fluff" (descriptions of effects) vs mechanics (what does the effect do from a numbers viewpoint). He does a good of describing the differences in past editions and the conflicts that can arise therein.

Personally, I think you can mix the two. We do not have to go back to the Gygax style of prose or the heavy word count wherein effect is lost. If there is one thing the current writers are good at, it is condensing information down to what is truly needed. They do not use three sentences to describe an effect when one will do. This then opens up more space for prose that can evoke a feeling or style.

I do not think descriptions of powers (spells, abilities, etc) need to be one or the other (prose vs mechanics), but can be both.

May 9, 2012

Zenobia's Monastery

Today we conclude the series of my old maps with one for a high level cleric in my AD&D game from long ago. This could be used as a temple the players need to visit...or assault if the cleric in charge is of an evil persuasion.

Zenobia's Monastery 

Zenobia's Followers

160 Level-0 Clerical
AC:10 HP:4 


8 Heavy Cavalry HP:8
Platemail & Shield AC:2
Mace Dam:1d6
Lance Dam:2d4+1
Broadsword Dam:2d4

10 Medium Cavalry HP:8
Chainmail & Shield AC:4
Flail Dam:1d4+1
Lance Dam:1d6+1
Shortsword Dam:1d6

18 Light Cavalry HP:8
Studded Leather & Shield AC:6
Light Crossbow Dam:1d4
Pick Dam:1d6 

11 Heavy Infantry HP:10
Splintmail AC:4
Battle Axe Dam:1d8
Longsword Dam:1d8 

19 Heavy Infantry HP:10
Chainmail AC:5
Halberd Dam:1d10
Handaxe Dam:1d6 

12 Heavy Infantry HP:9
Ringmail AC:7
Heavy Crossbow Dam:1d4+1
Shortsword Dam:1d6 

42 Light Infantry HP:6
Padded & Shield AC:8
Spear Dam:1d6
Club Dam:1d6

May 8, 2012

City - Trasdon


1: Tollbooth
2: The 3-Headed Hydra Inn
3: The Traveler's Tavern
4: Thieves - 50% encounter w/thief
5: Market area - 60% encounter w/thief
6: Garrison
7: Jail
8: Weapon shop
9: General store
10: Town Hall
11: The Orb's Help (M-U Guild)
12: Blacksmith
13: Alchemist
14: Library
15: Slums - 80% encounter w/thief
16: Cobbler
17: Carpenter
18: Seamstress
19: Housing
20: Bank - 10% encounter w/thief
21: Chapel, Hospital
22: Fight training - 5gp day
23: Jeweler
24: School
25: Carriage service
26: Stock, hangings, etc
27: Money Changer - 15% encounter w/thief
28: Baker
29: Butcher
30: Mortuary
31: House of Pleasure
32: Scribe
33: Employment office
34: Guide service
35: Farmers Co-op
36: Warehouse - 30% encounter w/thief
37: Pawn Shop
38: Kennels

May 4, 2012

5E Friday

-A few weeks ago Rule of Three was asked about crafting. As per usual there was no clear answer other than they would like to include it. Maybe as a theme reward; get the Blacksmith theme and be able to craft blacksmithy stuff. Personally, I would like to see an implementation similar to how most MMOs (oops, I said a dirty word when talking about tabletop rpgs) do it. Usually in an MMO you gather raw materials and then craft something useful-weapons, armor, household furniture, potions, scrolls, vanity items, augments. I am fine with skipping the gathering of raw materials, but I would like to see crafting matter.

Maybe a Blacksmith would be able to create a masterwork weapon, and make this the easiest way to get a masterwork item (sure you could still loot one off a monster but the crafting skill guarantees you get the right weapon, when you want it). And once the crafting of mundane weapons no longer is of value to the PCs, such as when they all have magic weapons looted from the monsters, then allow the Blacksmith to augment these magic weapons with a minor upgrade (such as a +1 to hit) as he adds a keener edge or better balance.

I think crafting skills and mechanics should be included in D&D as it adds another layer by which players can feel important and useful. Just make the crafted items of value.

-With the next wave of playtest hitting the streets on the 24th, I wonder if the NDAs will be lifted. If the volume of playtesters is what WotC has hinted at this will be a large playtest. It will be almost impossible to keep a 100% lid on the NDA. I also think lifting the NDA can only help 5E at this point. There is so much rampant speculation going on that letting people actually see concrete details and discuss the product can only help. Also, at this point, I think the general rpg audience is getting a bit weary of nothing solid coming from WotC.

Of course I think there will be two significant questions once 5E hits the public world...
Is it fun?
Is it D&D?

May 3, 2012

City - Sempar


1: Tollbooth
2: The Green Ale Inn
3: The Traveler's Tavern
4: Thieves - 60% encounter w/thief
5: Market area - 20% encounter w/thief
6: Garrison
7: Jail
8: General store
9: Town Hall
10: A Spell's Friend (M-U Guild)
11: Blacksmith & Stable
12: Alchemist
13: Scribe
14: Seamstress
15: Carpenter
16: Cobbler
17: House of Pleasure
18: Slums - 60% encounter w/thief
19: Housing
20: Bank - 10% encounter w/thief
21: Warehouse - 60% encounter w/thief
22: Chapel, Hospital
23: Fight training - 7gp day
24: Jeweler
25: School
26: Money Changer
27: Theatre
28: Baker
29: Butcher
30: Stock, hangings, etc

May 2, 2012

City - Rivertown


1: Tollbooth
2: The Agoia's Rest (Inn)
3: Nymph's Tavern - 20% encounter w/thief
4: Lake East's Inn
5: Market area - 45% encounter w/thief
6: Warehouse - 50% encounter w/thief
7: Thieves - 40% encounter w/thief
8: Garrison
9: Jail
10: General store
11: Town Hall
12: Alchemist
13: Scroll City (M-U Guild)
14: Blacksmith & Stables
15: Sage
16: Slums - 70% encounter w/thief
17: Cobbler
18: Seamstress
19: Carpenter
20: Baker
21: Butcher
22: Housing
23: Bank - 10% encounter w/thief
24: Chapel, Hospital
25: Fight training
26: Fishery
27: School
28: House of Pleasure
29: Mortuary
30: Stock, hangings, etc
31: Jeweler

May 1, 2012

City - Norarm


1: Tollbooth
2: The Purple Worm Inn
3: The Bronze Dragon Tavern
4: The Footpad's Inn - 50% encounter w/thief
5: Thieves - 50% encounter w/thief
6: Market area - 55% encounter w/thief
7: Garrison
8: Jail
9: Garrison weapon shop
10: Weapon shop
11: General store
12: Town Hall
13: Wizard's Wand (M-U Guild)
14: Blacksmith
15: Alchemist
16: Sage
17: Library
18: Orphanage
19: Slums - 75% encounter w/thief
20: Cobbler
21: Carpenter
22: Seamstress
23: Housing
24: Bank - 20% encounter w/thief
25: Chapel, Hospital
26: Fight training - 5gp day
27: Jeweler
28: Theater
29: School
30: Carriage service
31: Mortuary
32: Guide service
33: Stock, hangings, etc
34: House of Pleasure
35: Warehouse - 65% encounter w/thief
36: Money Changer - 55% encounter w/thief
37: Employment office
38: Tax Collector
39: Baker
40: Butcher
41: Farmers Co-op
42: Food Storage
43: Pawn shop - 30% encounter w/thief
44: Kennel