June 29, 2012

5E Friday

-I want to critique, analyze and test 5E. But I feel I can't, at least not properly. An RPG system is a composite of its parts into a whole. A system in not just combat. It is how character abilities, special situations, defenses, attacks all interact with each other. How combat works will change as new things are added, such as hp inflation or backgrounds that grant combat bonuses.

For a glaring example, WotC has stated that some of the numerical stats in the current playtest are influenced by "hidden" factors, such as one of the characters adding to weapon damage because they had a background feat that provided more damage. That "feat" and its effect is not listed on the character sheet, just the numerical effect. Looking at the sheet and the impact it has on combat (more damage) alters the analysis of the combat in the play-test. There is an assumption (and rightly so) that the base damage of a character falls within the parameters of the numbers in the playtest, when in fact those numbers are affected by components not part of the playtest (backgrounds and "feats" not listed). But because of these "hidden" factors, it skews the test.

I understand why WotC is running the play-test the way they are. They want to isolate components of the system for ease of analysis. However, I don't think this approach will work. To get a true and clearer picture of system mechanics it takes being able to look at the entire system.

-Jack's Toolbook had a recent article on the percentages in the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic and asked whether the swing in numerical value depending on the target number (and desired goal) is a handicap to the mechanic. I wanted to comment on the topic but couldn't (not registered). So here are some of my thoughts on the topic...

I've seen the various mathematic breakdowns of Advantage/Disadvantage and I have a simple understanding on the concepts involved as you outlined above. However, for me the bottom line is that Advantage gives the player a bigger chance of success and Disadvantage gives a player a bigger chance of failure. What the actual numbers and percentages are, are not as important to me. The net effect (+ or -) are what matters.

The goal of the systemic use of Advantage/Disadvantage is met. Does the character have Advantage in the situation? Yes? Then the player has an advantage with the die roll...and vice versa.

Also, someone mentioned a baseline + or -3 (roughly) as an overall average. Over the course of a campaign, the percentages and numbers will even out to roughly that number so it all comes out in the wash. If taken over an extended time period, instead of just looking at it on a one-time, single-circumstance die roll, it works itself out.

I like the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic because it is an easy to implement system that accomplishes its design goal.

June 27, 2012

Worst End of a Campaign Ever!

Yesterday, I wrote about how I am enjoying reading the Adventure Paths from Paizo even though I have no intention of ever running them. However, the ending to the Kingmaker Adventure Path has gained the title of Worst End of a Campaign Ever. To set things in perspective I first want to say that the Kingmaker campaign is actually a really good one which sets a very high bar for published adventure/campaign writing. But the end...it is horrifying.

Basically, once you reach the end of the campaign you have killed the evil nemesis and destroyed her demi-plane. That has been your goal through 6 adventure books and 20 levels. And the last thing that happens to your characters as you finish up, the last die roll mechanic written in the book as happening to your characters, is that you lose 1d4 levels. Part of the destruction of the the villainess' demi-plane is that it collapses into reality and everyone of the characters has to make a save or gain 1d4 negative levels. And then the adventure ends...with some characters having actually lost levels. That's the big end reward.
"Hey, thanks for saving the world, now take one to the nuts!"

What is the Worst End to a published adventure you have ever seen?

June 26, 2012

Reading an RPG for Fun

Of late I’ve been reading some Pathfinder Adventure Paths, in particular Kingmaker and now Second Darkness. Do I intend to ever run these? No, in fact I do not even own the Pathfinder game system and while I own most of 3E, it is not my system of choice these days.

In all honesty, I am reading them for fun, not for any gaming purpose.

Sure, I might use some of the concepts and encounter ideas in one of my own games down the road. I might convert the Adventure Paths to a system I prefer. Or I might even break down and pick up the Pathfinder rule set. But that is not the intent of reading the gaming books.

The books are well written, packed with detail and it all works to stimulate my imagination. Much the same way a novel does. In my imagination I wonder how my players would handle the adventure or how I would do it if I was a player. I imagine the settings and NPCs.  It is all a source of entertainment.

Of course, the thought that I read gaming books for fun didn’t strike me until I was looking over my Mutants and Masterminds collection. While I love the super-hero genre I will never run M&M. I will never use these books. The game is far too bloated with far-flung rules for my tastes. I am actually running a Savage Worlds super-hero game right now instead. However, I own every M&M book I can get my hands on (both by Green Ronin and all the Super-Link publishers as well). This isn’t even a case of “I might run M&M some day”, because I know I never will. But I sure do like to read their stuff.

I have an extremely large collection of RPG games. I know I will never be able to run most of them, but in the back on my mind I have plans to run them at some point. But there are a couple that I know I will never run. Do you have any game rules/supplements that you know you will never run?

June 22, 2012

5E Friday

-As I asked last week, how compatible will old published material be with 5E? As Philo Pharynx pointed out in the comments, WotC has already declared ascending AC will be how AC is done, thus excluding most 1E material. Now I ask, how close to compatible with old published material will 5E need to be? For myself, I can handle changing AC on the fly, as long as I do not also have to change hp, damage, and other such "basic" components of a monster/module.

The real question for me is...will converting an old published module require me to do it before the adventure is run or can I do it on the fly? I want to feel that I can use my older material with 5E.

At the very least WotC should include a conversion methodology for each former edition of D&D to 5E, instead of only converting from 4E to 5E.

Now I ask you, how much would it take in conversion before you feel you can no longer do it on the fly?

June 19, 2012

The Fail of Free RPG Day

This was the first time I was been looking forward to Free RPG Day. Last year was the first time I interacted with Free RPG Day, when I went into my FLGS two weeks after the event and they still had some of the items out on display for people to take. Before this I generally ignored the Day because I assumed the Free stuff was useless and nothing but fancy product fliers. Last year changed my opinion on that.

So this year I made a plan. The wife and I already had plans to visit some friends 90 minutes from our house. I made a list of gaming stores between our house (NH) and our friend's house (central-Mass). The plan was to hit every gaming store between the two points and we'd pick up the swag as we traveled (twice as much as I was going to make my wife come in and get another free item). I figured we could end up with one of each product. The plan was brilliant in it's diabolic cleverness.

So, we hit the first store on our list. This was the FLGS where I had picked up the "after-event" swag from last year. I figured they would be doing the event again this year.

And they didn't have anything.

I asked and they said they were on the list to get the product for Free RPG Day 2012. But there was a snafu and they got nothing. Then they said they called a couple of other stores in NH and were told they also had not received the product packages. Then they told me that a number of stores in Mass also had not received their packages. Apparently there was a shipping/allocation error. The news was that NH and Mass were missed.

We still ended up hitting four more stores on our trip and none of them had any Free RPG product. Overall rather disappointing. Now, I am not the sort of person to gripe about not getting free stuff, after all the producer of said products is not obligated to give anything away for free and I am certainly not entitled to get free stuff from anyone. But it was disappointing.

To be fair, I did check out the Free RPG Day website after I got home and none of the stores I had visited were on their list, though some of the stores thought they were and had expected the product packages. Maybe a case of miscommunication or the website simply reflected the mess-up in shipping. Either way, Free RPG Day was a non-event for me.

As a cool aside, the first store I hit was having a Retro-Free RPG Day to make up for the fact they hadn't received the product packages. They put out product from last year's Free RPG Day that no one had taken last year and then they added in some D&D Encounter modules from their in-store Encounter events. I still managed to get some Dark Sun modules, Keep on the Borderlands, Geist, and Rogue Trader stuff.

June 15, 2012

5E Friday

-It seems like the default name for 5E is DnDNext. That is what WotC is using most of the time when discussing the next edition. I can see why they want to avoid the concept of "next edition". They are hoping 5E will bring all the older editions together under one umbrella, while still allowing for new edition stuff...without calling it a new edition.

However, I don't like DnDNext as a name for the next iteration of D&D. It feels transitory. It feels like it invalidates what has come before (which is the actual opposite of what their intended goals are). It feels like "New Coke". While I don't have a much better answer, I think I would prefer something simple like "Core D&D" as the name of the next edition.

-One major thing that will help 5E is backwards compatibility. It is one thing to bring out the "feel" of other editions. Does 5E "feel" like 1E? Can you play a 4E style game? I think that can all be accomplished through nomenclature and system add-ons.

However, the real question is...Can I pick up an old adventure module and run it using 5E? I am fine with needing a specific rule system add-on (i.e., if I want to run a 4E adventure, I would need the "4E add-on"), but do I need to do a full conversion to make use of my old materials? If WotC can make 5E capable of running older material, they will find more people getting on board the concept of 5E.

June 12, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman is a D&D Movie

[Spoilers Follow]

I went to go see Snow White and the Huntsman expecting a retelling of the fairy tale. I got that, but so much more. To me, it is a D&D movie. It is filled with D&D tropes and, more importantly, filled with images ripped right out out of my D&D mind. The movie was able to visualize what I am usually at a loss to accurately describe with meer words.

It had a Dark Forest. Every world setting I've ever written has some form of Dark Forest, an aged forst deep, dark, mysterious and dangerous. This movie portrayed my concept of this accurately and well.

It had a fight with a bridge troll. Fights with trolls are always awesome.

The dwarves were cool instead of silly little people.

It had river villages with unique customs inherent to the setting (the self-scarring of the women to avoid the gaze of the Witch).

It had a hidden elven glade of faeries and fey creatures.

It had a band of heroes fighting and saving the day, while armies fought.

The castle interiors were narrow and looked like 5' wide hallways.

It had a sorcerous villainess, where the use of magic was explicit and effective.

Was it a great movie? No, though it is a good movie. And it is a D&D movie. Wanna see...

June 8, 2012

5E Friday

-Played a test session of DnDNext. Because I did not want to stop my current campaigns to run the playtest, I put out an open invitation on Facebook with a set time and place. I got four responses and one didn't show up because he was in a car accident the night before. So I ended up with three players and each only took one character.

James: Duece, the healing Cleric. He has played every edition since 1E. He recently DMed a 3.5E (not Pathfinder) and is in my 4E campaign. He has also played a variety of other rpgs.

Tucker: Thad, the non-healing cleric. He has played 3E (which he didn't like because of its size) and most recently ran a 4E campaign. This was my first time in a table-top game with the player.

Carrie: Garm, the fighter. She has been playing D&D since 2E and is in my 4E and Savage Worlds campaigns (and she's my wife). She most recently ran 3rd edition Gamma World and has played in/run many different rpgs.

I used a couple of the suggested adventure hooks (the evil cultists have joined the humanoids together and now demand regular tribute which has caused a rise in humanoid attacks, and a neighboring kingdom has lost their prince who has been cpatured by the humanoids and want him found) to quickly set the stage and give the players some goals other than simply "go kill-loot".

I used a map from the website candlekeep.com, wherein he has created a map of the landscape without all the tunnels or hidden entrances being shown. I simply handed the map to the players and let them loose. I also printed out Weem's excellent map of the caves since it is easier to use for me.

James instantly knew I was running B2 and started to use his meta-knowledge to try and get an edge. He started to state which letter corresponded to which cave entrance ("That is A and that is J."). I didn't mind for two reasons; 1) I wanted the characters to start with the "easier" encounters and 2) His memory was faulty most of the time (it had been 15+ years since he had actaully run in the adventure).

They entered the goblin caves (D). James mentioned the pit that was right at the entrance and was surprised it wasn't there. He assumed the playtest was not doing traps. Of course, he was thinking of the kobold caves (A) but I let him wonder.

From there things got hairy. They went left and 30' in, ran into the group of goblins couriers. A fight ensued. Unfortunately, they were right in front of another room so that room's occupants joined in on the fight. Fortunately, the characters were triumpant and managed to kill both groups, mostly from the fighter doing lots of damage and the healing cleric keeping everyone healthy. After the fight, they looted the room and since they were low on hp and out of healing magics, they went back to town to sell. I was a little disappointed that the "15 minute adventure day" was already in effect (even worse is that the combat was over in 4 rounds, making this a "24 second adventure day").

Once in town, they sold the goblin's equipment and then bought another healers kit and healing potions. The clerics liked the themes that gave them free healing at the temple and room & board for the knight.

They went back to the goblin caves. They reentered the room they had cleared and quickly made short work of the few goblins that had replaced the slain ones. From there they doubled back near the entrance and ran into the room wherein the goblins try to hire the ogre to aid them. The fight became a doorway fight with half the goblins trying to hold back the characters while the rest opened the hidden door and grabbed the bag of silver. By now the non-healing cleric had determined he was a "tank" with his high AC and became the one in front. As he and the fighter killed the goblins at the doorway the healing cleric picked off the goblins at the hidden door (he was again meta-gaming the room as he figured this is where the goblins hire the troll to aid them).
The fight was interesting in that there were no special terrain/encounter rules as seen in typical 4E encounters but it was still an interesting encounter. In the end the healing cleric managed to kill all the goblins by the hidden door while the other two killed the ones in the doorway. The goblins did manage to toss in the bag of silver to the ogre, but they never had a chance to finish their negotiations with the ogre. The characters shut the door and the ogre simply took the free bag of silver and figured the goblins were foolish.

From here the characters were in good condition so they went on...and found the central housing location of the goblins. 17 goblins with 6 children (it would have been 22 but they had killed 5 earlier in the re-stocked room). And the fighter charged in. In the end they killed 15 goblins, but it was a TPK. And there the game ended. They said if the mage was there things would have gone easier, or if they had even one more player they would have won.


James: Healing Cleric- It was difficult to keep up on healing. With the low level of the characters one or two hits would put a character into peril and require immediate responses, eating up non-healing actions.

Tucker: Non-Healing Cleric- Disappointed he was not given a healers kit in his equipment. Seemed very limiting as to what could happen. (For the record he was the first to do an "outside action" not prescribed in the rules: he wanted to push forward through an enemy, so I simply called for a Strength check between him and the goblin; success meant he moved the goblin back 5' and took the goblin's spot.) He did like the themes and backgrounds.

Carrie: Fighter- Did not like the fact that all the fighter did was swing a weapon...and next round swing a weapon...and next round swing a weapon. She did, however, like the fact she was a killing machine.

Me- It took us a couple of combats to get used to the system and combat. Once we did combat was fast paced; it helped make combat feel more "authentic". Instead of bogging down in combat the pace was quick which helped get into the "feel" of combat. Overall, I got a sense that the players wanted more from the system (either character or combat options).

I think WotC needs to release more for testing and soon. This testing in a vacuum (no character options, no combat options, nothing to engage the players other than some hack-n-slash) makes the process difficult and slightly uninteresting. Did I like it? Did it give me "D&D Vibes"? I really can't say since the playtest was so limited. I, personally, need more to get a better handle on the system.

June 5, 2012

Should RPGs Remain a Niche?

In one of the interviews with Mike Mearls about D&DNext he mentioned making D&D more mainstream and accessible to non-rpg players.  Taking it out of being just a niche game.

If you look at card games, board games, even video games, the trend is to get people playing as quickly as possible. With our Lords of Waterdeep and Castle Ravenloft board games, we wanted people playing within 15 minutes of opening the box.
My attitude is the same toward D&D. Open the game, and start playing. I think that RPGs have grown more and more complex over the years, and we’ve lost sight that the real fun of RPGs lies in experiencing a make-believe world through the eyes of a character who isn’t you. The first RPGs fit into 64 pages or less of text, with tons of that space given over to monsters and spells.
I think for too long, people have sort of thrown their hands up and 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!

Will WotC be able to make a D&D that can enter the mainstream gaming market? Will they be able to create a game that can reach the iconic level of Monopoly, Battleship or Risk?

Whether or not they can, I have a side question on the topic. Do rpg gamers want D&D to be anything more than a niche? Are there some who do not want the game to hit the mainstream?

Playing D&D, and rpgs in general, is a form of “geek cred”. It is something that can make a person feel unique. “I am part of the minority that plays rpgs,” is carried by some as a badge of honor. Some people like that feeling of being different (dare I say “hip”) that comes with playing rpgs.

Would these people look upon a mainstream D&D as an intrusion into their uniqueness? Would they be hostile to the proliferation of their niche? And if some are, should they?

June 1, 2012

5E Friday

- I've been trying to get a pick-up game for 5E, since I don't want to replace my regular games with the playtest, but so far having no luck in actually running a game of 5E. However, there have been a plethora of 5E reviews, play analysis and other comments on a variety of blogs. With a lot of good analysis two things have struck me...

1) "5E is not innovative." I've seen a few people mention this (some do mention the Advantage/Disadvantage die system as innovation-though some also mention it's been used in other games before 5E). However, 5E is an attempt to unify and simplify D&D. If they start to add a variety of innovations then it is not a true simplification. Instead, it would turn into what 4E was, a D&D with so much innovation it no longer looked like D&D to some people. Innovation is not what WotC is trying to produce with 5E. The rule set is meant to NOT be innovative. The true innovations will be how 5E will allow a wide selection of play styles from old school to new school and in-between, sort of a meta-game innovation (assuming they can pull it off).

2) "5E does not exactly reproduce my favorite version of D&D". Sort of the opposite of the first point. Some people want 5E to be a retro-version of their favorite D&D. That is not what 5E will be. Again, 5E is more of a meta-game which will allow each group to customize it to their own group's play style. It is not a reproduction of that play style.