March 31, 2015

RPG Blog Alliance Gone - What Now?

I am sad to see the end of the RPG Blog Alliance. There are some really good reads that show up here/there. I liked its ease of use and quick load. However, I am still part of RPG Bloggers. If you are looking for a blog feed I recommend it. I hope see a bunch of blogs from Alliance show up there so I can keep seeing them.

March 24, 2015

Failure from Success

Players hate to fail. They hate it even more if it seems like they were set up to fail. And yet, sometimes a DM will write an adventure when they are supposed to fail (get captured, let the bad guy get away, etc). However, there is a way for the players to fail without it feeling like a failure...and that is to give them a rousing success that includes the failure going off as a side effect.

As an example, my current Shadowrun campaign started with the player characters being hired to kidnap a mage and hold him for 24 hours. The run went perfectly and they all got paid. A rousing success! However...they soon found out that the victim was working as magical protection for the local mob boss who was killed during that 24 period...and that his heir was a woman who just happened to be dating one of the runners. The fallout is ongoing for that "success".

I could have used a heavy handed tactic to force the players into their predicament. After all, I needed the PCs to be in their current situation for the story and plot to advance. However, I "forced" them into it with a success, not a failure on their part. This concept can be used in almost any plot angle...

-The plot calls for the princess to die so a war can start between two nations. Instead of having the PCs fail to save the princess before she is killed, the PCs can rescue her but in the process they discover she has been a doppelganger working for the enemy nation for years. The PCs still succeed but the "failure" of their discovery starts a war nevertheless.

-The PCs attack an orc stronghold in a mountain pass that has been plaguing a region....only to discover that with the orcs dead the pass is now open to an invading army of barbarians. Instead of having the PCs fail to keep the mountain pass closed to the barbarians, they succeed by killing the orcs...with the end result being what the DM wanted - an invasion campaign.

It's okay to sometimes force something to happen to keep a plotline going, but it doesn't have to require the player characters failing at something to accomplish it.

March 17, 2015

How I Still Use Bloodied in 5E

Bloodied was a Condition in 4E that indicated a person was at or below half hit points. It allowed for some interesting abilities that fed off of the mechanic; such abilities as a Bloodied creature being easier to hit or if you were Bloodied you did more damage. 5E did away with the Bloodied Condition. I still use it but in a very watered down version.

4E Bloodied required an extra step of math, especially as it pertained to the monsters. Players would  be constantly asking if a monster was Bloodied. I can see why the more streamlined 5E got rid of Bloodied. However, one way I used Bloodied in 5E was as a signifier of how damaged a PC was. A PC down only a few hp could have some minor cuts and bruises. What was to show that a PC had taken some serious wounds. For this I used Bloodied.

I try to be as narrative as possible. If a PC ask the health of a PC instead of giving hit point numbers I simply said if the PC was Bloodied or not. Narratively, I am telling the player that the PC has taken some serious damage. I kept this simple term for 5E.

For my 5E games, I break down all visible signs of player character damage as Healthy (undamaged), Damaged (above half hp), Bloodied (at or below half hp) and Dead.

Thus I never give out numbers. The players can guess at exactly where each PC is, without knowing the precise number. This most comes into play when the healers are deciding who to prioritize for healing and how big of a spell to cast. For my group it adds a slight element of risk and "haze of combat". And it helps a bit for immersion as we talk less in numbers and more as to what the PCs are seeing.

I wouldn't mind seeing the Bloodied Condition come back for 5E. I think it allowed for some nifty combats maneuvers. However, for now, I'm using this lesser version of the condition.

March 10, 2015

Power in a Vacuum

In most campaigns the DM has the general area and antagonists already outlined. "Kill some kobolds then move on to the temple with the undead." The enemy is often unnamed and ultimately of low consequence. Kobolds are plentiful and if for some reason the party fails to kill them the world will not end. Monsters tend to be generic, and if they have a name, no one in the world cares except for those living next door.

But as a campaign gets older the antagonists become more powerful to properly challenge the players. And it is at this point that some campaigns falter in the area of "believability". If the newest enemy is the OrcKing and his army of 100,000 Trolls, one of the first questions the players will ask is "why haven't we heard of this guy before?" "With an army that big where was he hiding for the past 2 years?" These sorts of questions will jar the players out of the immersion of play.

The more powerful an enemy is, the more world-wide recognition and impact they would have.

The trick is to feed the names of these powerful individuals and organizations to the players early in the campaign instead of having them leap out in surprise. This is easy to do if you know who the end-game enemy will be. You can slip their names out in passing..."The LichKing rules the North so no one ever goes there." "Thousands of trolls occupy MudFen so it's best to avoid that area."
However, sometimes a DM has not worked out all the details of his world yet. They may not know who the bad guy will be later in the campaign. That is okay. The trick here is to insert random names. Sure they will have no meaning now, but they will be available for later usage. Consider them placeholders. Examples are...the Crimson Divide, Cabal of Four, The Black Monk. You may not know what any of those are, but in a later adventure, at higher level, you can pull them out. The players will be already familiar with the name, even if they don't know the details.

One caveat to this article is that...sometimes it is okay to have an organization or powerful individual come at the players from out of nowhere, out of a vacuum. This especially works well for secretive type of groups such as secret police or hidden cults imbedded in the normal population. There the whole point is secrecy and for the players it makes sense to not have heard of them before.

But for big, world impacting power groups, get the word out early.

March 6, 2015

5E Friday - Responsive

This week we saw a new survey from WotC on 5E. Also listed there is some feedback from the first survey, mostly Ranger and other issues. I find it interesting that they responded fairly fast and did not really hedge on their response. They readily acknowledged that a good percentage of people are unhappy with certain aspects of the Ranger class. They haven't revealed how they plan to "fix" it but it was revealing how they plan to approach the idea.

In the past WotC has released errata to "fix" things. When the errata became to massive they even released a half edition (3.5). I believe they are trying to avoid going that route. From their comments they want to leave what is already written alone, almost carved in stone - "as opposed to a rewrite of the Player’s Handbook.". Seems like they will adding new rules and new options that allow a player to make additional choices that will allow them to circumvent/ignore the "poor" choices currently available - "People who don’t like the ranger should feel as though the new options allow them to play the ranger they want to create."

I like this approach. People who like the Ranger can keep playing it as it currently is. Those who do not can try the new options. And most importantly, we will not need a second errata printing of books. One thing that annoyed me about previous editions was that every time they made a change the books changed and my book became outdated at each printing. Of course, we'll still need to get the new material in whatever form they release it as...which for now has been free downloads.

Personally I like this level of responsiveness on the part of WotC. While they are writing rules and making choices they are not arrogant enough to ignore feedback. Some companies say "we know better, trust us that these rules are for the best", while ignoring what the mass of community is saying. One of the fears of DnD Next while it was in playtesting was that the rules would be a mess as the writers tried to incorporate the feedback/desires of 10,000+ different people and viewpoints. However, WotC has shown with the 5E rules that, while they are willing to listen, they also know where to stop listening and just write some rules. I like this balance of listening but not being afraid to make decisions.

March 3, 2015

Chess is a Role-playing Game

..or rather, it can be. Anything can be a role-playing game if you are willing to forgo the game mechanics and let role-playing trump the game. The famous John Wick wrote an article somewhat recently about how many rpg games, specifically early D&D, are not role-playing games. There have been a lot of discussion on the article, both for and against the article. All of them make good points. Ultimately, I do not agree with it.

To illustrate why...