November 25, 2014

5E Group Background - Military Unit

The World Builder Blog did a nice article on Group Backgrounds for 5E. Basically these are backgrounds with the assumption that the player characters are all from the same background instead of the usual individual ones. This allows for player character group to have some initial ties, giving a more coherent reason of why they are together.
The initial article gave some basics for the Group Backgrounds, but I thought it would be neat to expand them into regular backgrounds. These could also work as regular Backgrounds for individuals.

Group Background: Military Unit

You are all part of the same military or mercenary unit. You have trained together, lived together and fought together. You know how each of you will act within a combat situation. There is a camaraderie that only a soldier can know. Upon leaving the military you carried that comradeship with you into the civilian world.

Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, choose one of the following (Animal Handling, Intimidation, Survival)  
Tool Proficiencies: One type of gaming set
Equipment: A unit insignia, a set of common clothes, a set of bone dice, a belt pouch continuing 10gp

Feature: Secret Code
You and your party know a secret, coded language which is only shared with others of your former unit. This language is both spoken and written. Parts of the language can be used to communicate through hand gestures.

Suggested Characteristics:
The camaraderie of a tight military unit where life and death are on the line forms a bond that can be carried over in a civilian life. However, it can also be too easy to carry over part of the military life, making a non-military life difficult.

Personality Trait:
1. When it comes to personal grooming, I have a morning ritual I adhere to every day.
2. When times get hard, I have to crack a joke to lighten things up.
3. I naturally follow orders.
4. I like to travel light. If it doesn’t fit in one rucksack I won’t bring it.
5. I keep all my weapons and armor as polished as possible.
6. I dislike politicians as they meddle in affairs they know nothing about.
7. Shoes are the most important thing to me. Keeping my feet dry can be a lifesaver.
8. In combat situations, I expect people to follow my orders and grow annoyed if they do not.

1. Duty. I was just following orders. (Neutral)
2. Involved. The ultimate goal of war is to bring peace. (Good)
3. Pre-Emptive. War is the extreme response to eliminate those who would harm us. Hit them before they hit us. (Chaotic)
4. Organization. One thing I learned while in the military - following the structure of command will keep you alive. (Lawful)
5. War. I enjoy killing people. War was legalized murder for me. (Evil)
6. Necessity. War is something that is inevitable. It is best to be prepared for it so it can be concluded as efficiently and quickly as possible. (Any)

1. This shield saved my life countless times. I won’t go anywhere without it.
2. I received a medal for bravery in battle. I wear it proudly.
3. There was a commander on the other side that I still want to see dead.
4. During one battle I was able to save a family caught in the wrong place. I still look out for them.
5. We had a mangy dog as a unit mascot. I took him with us when we left.
6. Not everyone in my unit mustered out when I did, but they are still family to me. I would do anything for them.

1. I’ve seen enough death to last a lifetime. I try to avoid combat as much as possible now.
2. The unit fell into disrepute due to something I failed to do. I carry this shame with me.
3. My hesitation caused the death of one of my comrades. I still blame myself and so do his family.
4. I rarely get a full night’s rest as I suffer nightmares from the horrors I’ve seen in battle.
5. I am always on high alert, never able to appear calm or in control. This makes it hard in personal interactions.
6. Sometimes I have flashbacks and think I’m back in a past battle.

November 18, 2014

Time Constraints and "Everyone Gets To Shine"

There is a general philosophy in rpg gaming that everyone at the table gets a chance to shine; ie everyone's character gets a chance to show off what they can do, a chance to be special. This means that a social character (the Bard in D&D or the Face in Shadowrun or anyone with a lot of social skills) will be presented with some social interaction. The characters that fight well will get into combat. The characters with specialized skills (the Thief in D&D or the Decker in Shadowrun) will be presented with a situation where their skills are required to advance the story.

However, some systems bog down into singular encounters. There have been many nights where all we did was run one combat in 4E, 3E, Shadowrun, even Savage Worlds. There have been nights when we never got to combat because we got bogged down in rules or skill challenges. Shadowrun Deckers were a blight on the game when everyone sat around waiting for the Decker to finish doing his thing.

This is not to put down certain systems, but some systems run...slow. The downfall of this is that sometimes (all too often in truth) we end up only running one encounter. This means that only those characters geared for those types of challenges get to "shine"...or really, do anything at all interesting. Thus, some players feel cut out of the action or, even worse, bored.

One solution to this is to run faster systems. While this article isn't a 5E fanboy post, I did notice in last week's 5E game (which included handing out the pre-made characters and explaining the basics of the system) that everyone had something to do. We had role-playing, skill checks and several combat encounters. Everything moved fast. Everyone got to do something they liked to do...everyone was able to "shine". Maybe not every minute but at least once during the night...unlike some games where it can be a couple of play sessions before they get to do something "special".

4E was designed so that no matter what class you played you would be effective in combat. Even with skills they wrote skill challenges to allow for every class to do something in them. With 4E, WotC attempted to make every type of character useful.
5E instead tries to speed up game play (mostly through the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic) as a means to make every type of character useful. By being able to run multiple encounters it means the odds are that every type of character will be able to do something special within a night's game time.

It is all well and good to write adventures tailored to every player's character so each of them has a chance to shine. However, it does no good if a night of gaming only runs one encounter from that adventure. This is a symptom of the game system not the adventure.

I've decided I like fast moving systems, ones that allow for many encounters in a night. Remove or minimize the time constraints built into a system. This is the better way to let the players/characters "shine".

November 11, 2014

5E Background - Scout


There are those whose job it is to walk into the unknown. They find where the enemy is before a battle. They make the world smaller by exploring the hitherto undiscovered regions of the world. They are the ones who explore by going there and seeing it for themselves. Being able to bring back the information is what sets apart the skilled scouts and the bad scouts.

Skill Proficiencies: Stealth, Survival
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: A set of traveler's clothes, 50' silk rope, a trinket, and a belt pouch containing 10gp

Feature: One with Nature
You are adept at living off and blending into the land. You become one with the area you find yourself. You have an innate sense of direction. You are always able to retrace your steps in any environment. This allows you to eventually get back to a point you are familiar with.

Suggested Characteristics:
You are an explorer into the unknown. You are often the first into an area no one has been to before. You have to be able to deal with anything. Hidden terrain can impede your progress or cause injury while you are alone. Native populations of either sentient beings or savage monsters can inhabit the land you have been tasked to map and explore.
You must be self-reliant, but having some competent friends along can help.
Personality Trait:
1. I always eat whatever the local food is, that way I do not smell foreign.
2. I like to have a contingency plan for every mission.
3. I like to make paintings of places I’ve seen.
4. I always dress to blend into whatever surroundings there are, whether in the wild or urban.
5. I prefer to wait and watch before acting.
6. I rarely talk louder than a whisper.
7. Getting dirty is part of a good camouflage. I just forget to clean up most of the time.
8. Ever since one bad mission, I make sure to bring extra food.

1. Mission Oriented. I am good at completing my assigned tasks. What happens with the information I gather is outside my area of responsibility. (Neutral)
2. Concerned. Whenever I meet a new race or peoples, I make sure any potential contact will not harm them. (Good)
3. Wild. The world is an untamed place and I fit right in. (Chaotic)
4. Expansionism. Expanding the boundaries means we can bring all society has to offer to new people and lands. (Lawful)
5. Greed. People are always willing to pay well for information, even those who didn’t do the hiring in the first place. (Evil)
6. Pioneer. The best part is being the first person to somewhere new. (Any)

1. On one mission I discovered a lost tribe of people. I decided to not reveal their presence for fear of what would happen to them if I did.
2. My single most important piece of equipment? This rope has saved my life multiple times, I wouldn’t go anywhere without it.
3. I’ve kept a copy of every map I’ve ever done for someone. It is fairly extensive.
4. While scouting a new area I was captured by a cannibalistic tribe. I managed to escape with a small trinket which I now keep as a memento. However, I suspect they want it back.
5. My mother was a famous druidess. While I cannot access her divine magics, I still seek emulate her love for nature.
6. I am too close to the animals; I can’t stand to eat meat anymore.

1. I used to be a scout in the military until one of my reports was wrong and hundreds of soldiers lost their lives. I still say my report was solid, but that didn’t stop them from kicking me out of the military and blaming me.
2. I am perpetually disappointed in the abilities of other people.
3. I am opposed to beings that seek to exploit the world or people weaker than them simply because they think they can.
4. I’m good at following orders no matter what they are.
5. On one mission I discovered a lost tribe of people. Using my report, the military moved in and that tribe no longer exists. I left the military soon thereafter but not before making some enemies in the hierarchy.
6. There is no one better than me in the wilderness. When it comes to the wilderness, I won’t take advice, not even if it’s good advice.

November 7, 2014

5E Friday - Storylines, Bloat and New Releases

WotC has made mention of their upcoming concepts for new releases (as seen in this article from EnWorld). Essentially new releases are tied into a "storyline". The upcoming storyline is Elemental Evil which features the Adventurer's Handbook (a book of player options centered around the storyline) and 2 Adventures (of which the first will be Princes of the Apocalypse).

While I like the idea of a central story arc to drive products, I am not happy that the Adventurer's Handbook will be so closely tied into the storyline/adventures. Basically, the Adventurer's Handbook is a splatbook for playing characters where the the characters have backgrounds in the Elemental Planes or options for characters interacting with those planes. As a DM I am looking for splatbooks that are more generalized. This book seems as if it will be too closely tied to the adventures.

Another example given was that of psionics. Any future book on psionics will be tied into whatever adventures/storyline is ongoing at the time. In my "psionics rulebook", I don't want it cluttered up with background information on a setting I may not be using. All I want are rules for psionics.

We'll see how the books are actually written but I expect a lot of useless information in my splatbooks.

November 4, 2014

5E Background - Traveling Merchant

Traveling Merchant

Traveling the world in search of new markets and new products is exactly where you want to be. Anyone can open a shop in a town and grow fat, but exploring new marketplaces is where the action is…along with the potential for even greater profits. Wheeling and dealing is your way of life and the best place to do that is out in the world.

Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Persuasion
Tool Proficiencies: One type of vehicles (land)
Languages: One of your choice
Equipment: A set of traveler's clothes, 15 gp of trade goods, a belt pouch containing 5gp.

Feature: Well Prepared
To get far as a traveling merchant you have to be prepared and you are. Choose or roll on the following table to determine what extra assets you start with.
1. Mule and cart.
2. 10gp worth of trade goods.
3. Another trinket.
4. A Comfortable Lifestyle already paid for the next month.
5. A Modest Lifestyle already paid for the next year.
6. A potion of healing.

Suggested Characteristics:
Traveling merchants are that rare breed of accountant and explorer. While making money is important, just as essential is seeing new places and interacting with new people.
Personality Trait:
1. I look at everything as a balance sheet. I am always calculating cost and potential profit.
2. I make sure everyone knows the shortest path between two points.
3. Knowing how essential animals are to my business, I make sure to always treat them right.
4. When I am excited, I tend to talk very fast.
5. When I’m not working, I like to spend my time fishing.
6. I enjoy talking about the local politics.
7. I believe in teaching people about fiscal responsibility.
8. I may have to look good when negotiating with a potential client, but I’m not afraid to get down and dirty when it’s called for.

1. Materialism. Gold is a measuring stick for how well you are doing in life. (Neutral)
2. Charity. Everyone has to start somewhere. I had some help starting out, so when I can, I pass that aid along. (Good)
3. Gambler. To hit it big, you have to take risks. (Chaotic)
4. Society. I am part of the process that keeps society moving forward. (Lawful)
5. Greed. Everyone else is just a person carrying my gold. (Evil)
6. Explorer. To see the world and make a living at it - is there really anything better than that? (Any)

1. My ledger book includes a list of every place I’ve ever visited with the local commodities and relative values of each.
2. The startup costs were huge; I am still paying off the debt to my lender.
3. I have a monetary goal for retirement and keep a constant tally of how close I am getting to it.
4. I have a spouse and children that I send my profits back home to. I miss them but the job keeps me on the road.
5. I enjoy writing about my travels. One day I’ll see them published.
6. I hope to one day buy myself a title of nobility.

1. I used to have a business partner but he was a lousy merchant. I had to break away and start my own business. He took it personally and harbors resentment.
2. I understand small gains and losses, but if ever a really big score came along I’d do anything to gain it.
3. I hate being on the losing end of a deal, really, really hate it.
4. I dislike spending money. I’d rather do without, and suffer for it, than spend gold.
5. When I was first starting out, I sold a trinket to raise some quick money. I now regret it and have been looking for it ever since.
6. When things don’t go my way I get depressed and sullen.