Saturday, January 28, 2012

Coolness Found on Google+ - Characters from Different RPG Systems Try To Lift A Rock

Characters from Different RPG Systems Try To Lift A Rock

OD&D: If you're strong enough, you lift the rock.

D&D 3.x: If you're strong enough, you lift the rock. If you like lifting rocks, you should check out this new prestige class based around rock-lifting.

D&D 4: All classes can lift the rock. They just do it differently.

Rolemaster: Roll to lift the rock. Now roll on the "rock lifting fumble table." Your arms fall off and bone shards impale two of your friends.

GURPS: Calculate the weight of the rock, your carrying capacity, your own weight, and the modifiers for terrain. Then roll to lift the rock.

Vampire: Roll to lift the rock. If you botch, you drop it on your foot and betray to the world the travesty of humanity you've become.

Mouseguard: It's not whether you lift the rock; it's what you lift the rock for.

Fate: If you're strong enough, you lift the rock. If you're not, maybe the rock killed your parents or saved your life. Spend a fate point and lift the rock.

Mutants & Masterminds: If you're strong enough, you lift the rock. If not, use a power to lift the rock. Any power. Fish telepathy, maybe. Go crazy.

Car Wars: Lifting a rock would entail getting out of your car. Don't do that.

Apocalypse World: Roll Under Fire to lift the rock. If you fail, Spacedog and his gang shoot you in the face.

Smallville: How much do you love the person trapped under the rock? Do you also love justice? Roll both those things to lift the rock.

Leverage: Roll to lift the rock. You succeed. But you rolled low, now Carmichael's men are coming to investigate!

Lady Blackbird: How badly do you want to lift the rock? Roll that. If you succeed, play out an emotional scene with the rock to get your dice back.

Nobilis: You lift the rock and reveal the gaping maw that is the darkness beneath the universe. It takes your shadow from you, and you understand that nobody has ever loved you like your shadow loved you, but it is too late. A thing lifted can never be put down again.

Danger Patrol: Do you want to lift the rock? Or do you want to lift a rock... in space? While it's on fire? And monkeybots are trying to pull off your head? And you're soaked in rocket fuel? Is that enough DANGER FOR YOU??

Legend of the Five Rings - Bent down to lift rock, rough and gray in crystal beauty, you don't notice death.

Exalted - Before you can lift the rock, you have to go on RPGnet and discuss the best Charm build so that you're doing it right. Then you realize the mechanics are all broken. You eventually give up and move on to other things, but damn was that rock pretty.

Cthulhutech - The rock tries to rape you. It's all brutal and dark and scary. You can't do anything about it.

Paranoia - The other members of your team shoot you for trying to engage in unassigned activities with the property of the Computer.

HERO Games (4ed) - Multislot: Rock - (5 points) * +1d6 HA (m10 points), 1d6 EB (m10 points). You go and check if your math is right, but give up.

FATE - You demand your GM give you a Fate Point for acting on an Aspect's compel that requires you to pick up that rock!

Rifts - You bend over to pick up the rock. The rock is made of MDC material! You throw it through at a barn. The barn collapses. You sell broken fragments of MDC road asphalt as weapons of mass destruction.

Mage the Ascension - You pick up a rock. Were there witnesses? Were they Sleepers? The implications of each option boggle your mind.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay - You pick up a rock. You develop horrible mutations and an urge to worship the daemons whispering in your head. Maybe the events are related; it's hard to say.

Shadowrun: Spend two hours with your team planning who will lift the rock and who will provide cover fire. Once the rock is engaged it turns out you underestimated its mass and the plan falls apart, so you just struggle and kick your way through. When you report your sloppy but successful execution of the mission to Mr Johnson, he fucks you over.

Fighting Fantasy: You lift the rock. Test your Luck. If you are unlucky, it falls and crushes you to the ground. Your quest ends here.

Changeling: the Dreaming - You pick up a rock. It's a Chimerical rock, so nobody else notices it. You throw it at someone, but it passes through him. You crumple up like a character sheet in a game nobody wants to play.

Mechanical Dream - You pick up a rock. Something something dreams, something something reality, something something psi-fi. It's really cool and pretty, but doesn't seem to really make any sense. Of course, you probably shouldn't be listening to rocks.

7th Sea - You pick up a rock because you're a pirate! You're not a pirate! You are too a pirate, there's a boat behind you and everything! You are not a pirate damn it! Are so! Are not!

Unknown Armies - You pick up a rock. As long as you hold the rock, you have power. But once you let go of it, the power is lost. So who has the power, the rock or you? Meanwhile, somebody has invented a piece of technology that has been sold worldwide to everyone for decades if not centuries, making the rock obsolete.

Over the Edge - You pick up a rock. It's a sentient time-traveler bent on conquering the Celebrity Poker circuit with your help. But that's really a cover, since it's really an acolyte of the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. Of course, once your realize that's a lie, the rock has already sold you out to the global Freemason conspiracy.

Ars Magica - You pick up a rock. 187 years ago, this rock was a stone in the Covenant of your teacher. Let's explore the magical history this rock has seen.

F.A.T.A.L. - You pick up a rock. You degenerate misogynist you.

Creations End - You pick up a rock. It's basically the same rock as the AD&D or Palladium rocks, but with a few minor differences. It crumbles apart as you try to look at it though. No one notices.

Scion - You pick up a rock. It's basically a kludge of that Exalted rock with that Aberrant rock. You throw it at a monster and hope it hits him before falling apart into pieces.

Barbarians of the Aftermath - Before you can pick up a rock, first you have to roll on some tables. Then some other tables. Then some more tables. A few more tables. A lot more tables. A lot more tables. A few more tables. Go back and roll on some more tables. Now your rock is a tentacled chair singing praises to Shiva in binary. It's really kinda' awesome.

Kult - You have a rock. God hates you.

Kerberos Club - You roll to pick up the rock using your all-purpose Strange Skill.

Trail of Cthulhu - You automatically pick up the rock because there is a clue underneath. You make a 1-Point Geology spend to realize the rock is a part of the world and part of something so much larger and more important than your pitiful human scale. Your mind shatters and you run gibbering down the streets of Massachusetts.

Don't Rest Your Head - You roll to pick up the rock. Exhaustion succeeds, but Pain dominates. You reach for the rock but are overcome by exhaustion. In your hand, the rock becomes a poisonous rock crab. The street laughs at you, as your blood runs into a hungry gutter.

Fiasco - You pick up the rock trying not to think about how bad this is all going to end up.

Strands of Fate - Build the physics of the entire universe from the ground up. Once that's done, pick up the rock.

JAGS Wonderland - Try to pick up the rock. Descend to the first chessboard instead. Pick up the rock's Shadow which drools on you. Meanwhile, back in the real world, your Reflection drools on the rock.

Picking Apart the 5E Class Seminar - Part I - Complexity & Balance

Greg: How complex or simple do you think classes should be?
Bruce: I think, we think that different classes should have different levels of complexity. If you want something easier to pick up, there should be a class for that, if you want something that's a bit more challenging or has a bit more going on, you should be able to do that out the gate as well. (If my admittedly poor knowledge of D&D 4e serves me, all classes had about the same complexity)
Monte: I would also add that we want different levels of complexity for classes. For example, if a guy wants to pick up a fighter and have an easy time of it, there should be options for that. But also, if another person wants to pick up a fighter and have lots of options and/or complexity, we want to provide that too. The base game is the foundation. If you opt in to character development options, you can get complexity. (I’m figuring there is a default feat / power / ability progression built in, or you can opt to pick your own progression choices.  I’d hope that the default progression is fairly optimal, so those that aren’t into such details don’t get too hosed)
Rob: There was discussion of complexity parity in the classes. There's a baseline complexity, but can add as needed.  (This sounds way too much like 4e for my tastes)
Greg: Do you want to talk about some of the ways that this could be accomplished? 
Monte: Sure. So for example, if your fighter goes up a level and would normally get some bonus damage or a bonus to hit, or something simple, then maybe instead you could choose to replace that with an option or options that allow you to do some cool moves that allow you to push people around, or protect your allies a bit more, or control the battlefield a little more(These are definitely from 4e.  If you add these options to your character, aren’t you almost requiring the use of a battle map?  Wasn’t the use of a battle map supposed to be optional in D&D 5e?  I’d like to see how they propose to get these conflicting goals to work)
Rob: Even in the core you have varying levels of complexity within each class. Even the wizard has a base starting point that is less complex than what you can get into if you opt into some of the options.  (The question will of course be - does less complex mean less powerful / less optimal?)
Greg: This conversation leads into the talk of balance. Is it important that classes are equally balanced? And how does that look - would that focus on damage output and number crunching?
Monte: (Joking) The assassin, the wizard, and the warlock should all just be better than everything else.
Bruce: If all classes are putting out the same damage, there's no difference.   (This is good to know.  I’ve been deathly afraid that al classes would be contributing the same to combat - that was never the case until 4e) We definitely want the classes to be balanced, though having things exactly mathematically balanced isn't always the goal. (Once you step away from mathematical balance, you more from board game to RPG - or that’s my opinion) Different classes or different play styles will shine at different moments, though of course we want everyone to be able to contribute in the common situations like combat (which is as it should be, but some should be better at combat, others at stealth, others at knowledge, or finding things, etc) 
Greg: When you're talking about non-numerical class stuff, how do you figure out balance?
Bruce: If the fighter is 100% damage for example, then maybe this other class is 80% damage/combat and 20% exploration, or some other mix of game elements. Each class has its time in the spotlight, and not all classes are built expressly for combat (This is the best sentence I’ve read from either seminar.  They DO understand what Dungeons & Dragons is)
Rob: You may look at a class and see that it's damage output isn't as high as another class, for example maybe the bard doesn't do as much as raw damage as the fighter. That other class will have other options, like charm person or something that fits into that class's niche and will give that class different options, but still equally useful in combat, exploration, or roleplaying. If the Fighter's damage is the baseline, and Bard is 70%, the Bard has extra stuff (spells, etc) to give variety. We find damage equivalence between offensive and other types of spells. Charm Person roughly 105 points of damage.  (I really hate the number crunching aspect of this, because I hate to see an RPG brought down to hard numbers like some MMORPG Combat Damage Tracker.  Still, I appreciate the science behind the game design and getting a glimpse of the processes the designers are going through.  Even if it feels awkward to me.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mini Review - The Dungeon of the Rat (Tunnels & Trolls)

The Dungeon of the Rat is a GM Adventure / Delve for a party of T&T players.  This is in and of itself a general rarity in T&T adventures, as solos dominate the available adventure selection.  This one is written by Mike Hill, a well known Tunnels & Trolls adventure writer, who has had many articles and adventures  in The Hobbit Hole (The Hobbit Hole is no longer authorized by Mike and a number of others to publish their work).  The Dungeon of the Rat first appeared in THH.  This edition is released by Lone Delver Games, with all proceeds going towards a transplant fund to raise money for Jeff Freels (author of Bean! and frequent T&T artist) and his wife.  Your $4 goes to a noble cause.

Now, on to the adventure itself.  The Dungeon of the Rat is actually two parts:  Millet's Crossing (a village for your party to use as a home base) and the Dungeon of the Rat (surprise, a dungeon).

The village itself is very nicely described, with a selection of hooks for later use by an enterprising GM.  The map has a hand drawn, penciled look to it.

The Dungeon of the Rat is located in town, in the basement of the Troll's Trove Inn, so your party need not go far for their first adventure.

That first adventure is designed for novice characters AND players.  It's a teaching dungeon in a sense, with the expectation that by the time the party of delvers complete it, they should have a decent understanding of the gameplay involved and some basic puzzle solving, not just in T&T but rpgs in general.

If you are looking to start a new T&T campaign, and if you're not, you should be, The Dungeon of the Rat won't steer you wrong.

From the blurb:

The village of Millet's Crossing is a small and unassuming place. There is little of interest to the wandering sword-for-hire except for a nice inn and a general store. But the Troll's Trove provides a welcome bit of rest and relaxation to your band of road-weary adventurers. Just as soon as you have settled in, however, your host offers you a rather odd business proposition. It seems that the Troll's Trove has rats in it's cellar and these rats are stealing things all over town. What is really odd is that they are leaving behind small jade rat statues. A nice reward awaits those that can clear out the infestation and put a stop to the thefts. It appears to be a simple task, but one must be careful; even rats have gods.

This book contains details for the village of Millet's Crossing and the Dungeon of the Rat which lies right beneath the calm, rural community. The Dungeon of the Rat is suited for a party of four to six first-level characters. A mix of character types is recommended including at least one wizard and one rogue.
The Dungeon of the Rat is designed for use with the Tunnels and Trolls™ game system. You will need a copy of the T&T rules to play this game.

Special Note: All proceeds earned from the sale of The Dungeon of the Rat will be donated to the Jeff and Raquel Freels Transplant Fund (http://jeffwerx.com/tf.html). Jeff is a great friend and contributor to the Tunnels and Trolls™ community. Both he and his wife are in need of kidney transplants.

Time for Part III of Picking Apart the 5e Seminar - Modules

Q: How will roleplaying, combat and exploration be supported?
Mike: If we support those three things, we've covered about 90% of what's important in the game. The customization comes in at the table level. DM makes choices along with the players to craft their game. (What is the other 10%, do tell)
Jeremy: If a group wants more social interaction, the DM can choose the module that support that. If the group wants more tactical combat, then the group chooses those modules.  (Not to knock 4e, but it was designed to put an emphasis on combat.  Use of battle maps / grids left may DMs opting for pre-written adventures.  Doing your own in 4e is a PITA BTB.  Allowing for more social interactions is great, but using the term “module” is disconcerting for those of us raised on a “module” referring to The Tomb of Horrors such.)
Mike: For example, a mass combat expansion would have a basic, core system. Choose modules to play generals, etc. Are you seeing the mass combat from the top down, or from an individual's POV?  (So, you can have more then one mass combat module?  Yep, they've found an expandable market for themselves)
Monte: These choices have helped influence class design as well. This lets a combat-heavy fighter and an exploration-based rogue to both fulfill their roles well. Bards can still kick ass. Depending on what a player wants to do in/out of combat, there will be classes that well support that.  (This sounds like they aren’t trying to make every class equally effective in combat {4E}.  That’s awesome!  If I want to excel as a support class, I can.)
Mike: Swap the core class bits to make the character you want to play.  (I’d like to see this simple sentence in action)
Q: How will high level play work? 
Monte: Every edition of the game "breaks down" at a certain level. I don't think it breaks down, I just think it changes. I think 4E does the best of highlighting that high level change and being clear that things are changing. I think that we can run with that for the future and have a list of options for classes/characters that open up when you hit a certain level. We can also have other options, like building a castle, having followers and vassals. We can build that into what high level characters get. (I can be a 9th level Lord and have my troops and collect taxes again?  Nice!  Wait, this also sounds like there will be levels that are demarcation lines of sort.  Not so sweet)
Mike: I think Monte hit on the really important point with saying that different people mean different things when they say the game breaks down at high levels. Some people are excited that their characters get really powerful. The question is what should that change really be? How should the game change at high levels? What should it look like and how should we build the breadth of options to cover that? Those are the real questions we're trying to answer when addressing high level play.  (They don’t have the answer yet, but they are working on it.  That not really much of an answer)
I’m thrilled that everyone being equally effective in combat is going the way of the dodo.  If I play a Bard or a Cleric, I don’t expect to deal the damage that a Fighter can.
I’m very interested in seeing how well this new idea of “modules” will work in actual play.  I can see it has the potential of making WotC some decent cash, as it can be released gradually as add-ons to the new edition.

Picking Apart the 5E Seminar - Part II - Ending the THAC0 Escalation

I'm going to jump ahead for now (I'll go back up the list later) to address what I think is one of the more revealing facts revealed in the seminar (formatting sucks - I'm working form my iPad - I'll try and neaten up later).


Monte: Instead of the fighter getting a better and better attack bonus, he instead gets more options to do stuff as he goes up in level, and his attack bonus goes up at a very modest rate. I think it offers a better play experience that the orc/ogre can remain in the campaign, and people can know how the monster would work from a previous experience, but they remain a challenge for longer.

Jeremy: The Monsters are in the design teams hands now and we'll be moving to development in the next few weeks. What I can say about this goal that Monte is talking about is that we're working ot provide the DM with really good world building tools. And it's important to provide information about the orcs place in D&D while making sure that a Monster remains relevant as the characters level up. They're might be an orc shaman, an orc champion or whatever for higher levels, but we also want the basic orc to be relevant at higher levels. We want it to be really easy for the DM to open the Monster Manual and drop an orc or iconic monsters into the game.

Did you see Monte's comment about the to hit bonus for fighters going up gradually, while adding (attack) options as fighters level? Addressing the Illusion of THAC0 that I posted about last week.

If THAC0 doesn't climb at a fast rate, AC doesn't have to improve at a fast rate. So long as Monster THAC0 improves at a rate similar to Player THAC0, it removed the need for ever more powerful magic armor and weapons.

It also keeps the same monster as a viable threat for a longer level stretch than any of the previous editions.

In theory, it should also allow for a greater range of levels in the same party, as well as a greater / wider range of suitable levels for published adventures.

If they are slowing down THAC0, are they also slowing down spell acquisition by the casting classes?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Picking Apart the 5E Seminar - Part I

Morrus and the other fine folks at ENWorld have done a superb job of piecing together the Dungeons & Dragons 5E seminar taking place at Dungeons & Dragons Experience.  What I'm going to do is pick apart certain answers / statements and try to get a fuller picture of what D&D 5E will be, or what WotC are attempting to make it be.  If you want some pics of D&D 5E at "the table", check this post.

My comments will be in italics, either after someone's answer or after the completed answer (or both):

Q: What needs to be preserved from older editions? Player/DM relationship?
Monte: The core mechanic of #dnd is: player says 'I want to X' and DM responds. Therein lie the stories. 
Mike: Offering a wide variety of options so every player can play the way they want to. 
Jeremy: The game being a toolbox for players/DMs to create stories together. And fireballs. 
There are certain themes that stick out, because they come up as answers to other questions - options for players and DMs and toolbox
Q: How can we achieve balance in such a modular, flexible game?
Jeremy: What's important to know is that module approach is a spectrum of play styles.
There's a baseline game that provides the foundation. From there, you add on what you want. The seeds are there.  (so there is a core game, to which you can add complexity.  Basically it’s houserules and they are giving you the houserules to choose from)
Monte: For example, the basic game fighter might have specific level-bases abilities. Things that every fighter has. If you decide to get more customized, you can swap standard abilities for more complex, optional abilities. These are the kinds of things that feats do now. But the complex stuff is balanced with what's in the core. One character is more complex, but not necessarily more powerful.  (you can go with the default fighter progression, or you can tweak it to more of the concept that you envision - which I shall assume is similar for all the classes)
Jeremy: The DM should be able to create the experience that their group wants. The players should be able to choose their level of complexity, and have it work no matter the options chosen. (this is tough, because from my experience, the DM sets the tone and style of gameplay, not the players)
Mike: You can see expressions of character types that are found in other editions.  (This I bolded, because it plainly states you are NOT going to be playing older edition characters, but MAY be able to recreate the feel of one)
Monte: The DM says: we're using grid, mat and minis. The players can then choose options that match the DM's style. (see, now this is in conflict with Jeremy's answer just above this one - Monte is saying what I said, the DM sets the tone and style of gameplay, the players then chose options to match - there might be some disagreement in the team as to who leads, the players or the DM - but us OSR guys already know that answer)
Mike: If we get this right, everyone is sort of playing their own edition of the game. All at the same table. 
This is going to be one heck of a win if they can allow a group to field a party that is “sort of playing their own edition of the game.  All at the same table.”  Rumor has it they are aiming for a GenCon 2013  release for this.  I might have to actually attend for the first time in 20 years ;)

D&D 5E at DDXP

I like how the character sheets are "golden".  Reminds me of my AD&D days. ;)

In any case, EnWorld has pretty good coverage of the D&D Experience Con that is going on through this Sunday.  5E is obviously the hot topic.
A Pic of D&D 5E in Action at DDXP
Originally Posted at EnWorld.org

Crap!  Battlemaps in 5E!  Noooo!!!!
Heh ;)
Originally Posted at EnWorld.org
So long as battle maps are optional I'll be okay ;)

Do I See EGG On the Cover?
Originally Posted at EnWorld.org
Alright, time for me to read what's new and pick through the pieces.  Still, I loved the pics ;)

Roll a Little Dice, Have Fun Tonight

Last night I attended the Games That Can't Be Named event at the SoHo Digital Arts Gallery on Sullivan Street in NYC. It was a blast!

I met some really cool gamers, had some excellent Tunnels & Trolls conversations (last thing I expected to find), saw some amazing Old School D&D art from the likes of Peter Mullen (rendered on digital screens) and got some gaming in.

I wish I could talk about the RPG I played a session of, but I can't (NDA and all that). I will say it was a lot of fun and a blast to play.

Lessons learned?

I should bring an old notebook, more then 2 sets of dice, gem dice don't read so well depending on the light at my semi-advanced age and gamers are gamers no matter the age.

Most important lesson?

My wife is awesome! Thanks for encouraging me to attend ;)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Picking Thru "The Rule of Three" - Looking at Damage Types

For my next trick... I'm going to take a look at the question and answer dealing with "Damage Types" and I'll be pulling out pieces and addressing them.
In previous editions, different weapon types mattered. For example, slashing weapons had different qualities than bludgeoning weapons, or worked better against certain monsters. Is this an element of D&D that you would like to see returned to the front lines?
I chose this question to answer because it's something we've been talking about recently. I actually like the idea of weapon damage types a lot, and damage types in general. Damage types are a low-impact way of conveying a lot of narrative through game mechanics. If I have a spell that deals fire damage, I immediately have an idea of how to describe it, and what other effects might be associated with it. At the same time, damage types are—by and large—simply a keyword that is referred to by other effects. They are also flags to the DM that can indicate when there is an opportunity for something interesting to happen. If I deal acid damage to a monster, the DM can easily jump in with a description of the acid spattering and weakening the floor beneath that monster—which, in turn, is a flag for the players to consider smashing the weakened floor to drop the monster through. That's an example of damage types at their best.
There have been many times since the inception of 4E where we'd wished we had some kind of damage type for physical damage, a point that was driven home especially well when we did the design and development of the Gamma World game, which does have a physical damage type. I think the step that previous editions could have taken, but didn't, is to treat slashing, bludgeoning, and piercing damage types just like acid, cold, fire, etc. damage. That way, weapon users get a few more interesting choices in the weapons they wield, just like spellcasters have when making spell selections. Plus, there's something very satisfying to me for the cleric wielding the mace to be able to step forward and smash through skeletons that are vulnerable to bludgeoning damage. While there's nothing set in stone about the next iteration of D&D, those are some of the kinds of things we are thinking about.
Damage types are a low-impact way of conveying a lot of narrative through game mechanics.

Uhm, I thought "narratives" in gaming was for "Indie" type games.  In any case, prior to 3e, there really wasn't much though put to "damage types" beyond fire, cold and lightning.  3e added a few.  Don't know 4e well enough to say.

 If I deal acid damage to a monster, the DM can easily jump in with a description of the acid spattering and weakening the floor beneath that monster—which, in turn, is a flag for the players to consider smashing the weakened floor to drop the monster through. That's an example of damage types at their best.

Great image for them to draw upon.  But then we need to see what the floor is made out of, did it make it's save, how many hit points did it have, how is the party going to damage it, etc.  I'm looking forward to official D&D modules with damage ratings for the floors, walls and ceilings ;)

I think the step that previous editions could have taken, but didn't, is to treat slashing, bludgeoning, and piercing damage types just like acid, cold, fire, etc. damage. That way, weapon users get a few more interesting choices in the weapons they wield, just like spellcasters have when making spell selections.

Do we need to bring back AC adjustments for Armor Types vs Weapon Types?  If I recall, it was in 2e, but we stopped using it as in only came into play with humanoid opponents that wore armor.  Will 5e monsters be given an equivalent AC type regardless of actual AC for damage type purposes?

there's something very satisfying to me for the cleric wielding the mace to be able to step forward and smash through skeletons that are vulnerable to bludgeoning damage

That was always called "slashing / piercing do half damage to skellies".  Blunt weapons were therefore twice as effective.

Do we make opponents harder to hit with the Armor Type / Weapon Type chart, or do we use a Damage Resistance / Reduction effect?

Balance versus Niche Protection

Do all classes need to be equally effective in combat? Here lies the issue of balance versus niche.

I'll say right from the start that the answer is, in my opinion at least, somewhere between the two.

4e is well known for its balanced character classes - each is pretty balanced compared to the others in combat encounters. As Matt Finch said in a comment to my last post, what works in board games doesn't translate so well to RPGs. It makes for a bland, boring game.

On the other extreme we have LotFP's Weird Fantasy. Here, there is no attempt to balance character classes. Instead, each class has a niche that is their's and their's alone.

Fighters get to hit progression while leveling, no other class does.

Specialists get a pool of skills, no other class does.

Clerics and Magic-Users get Cleric and MU spells respectively.

Dwarves excel at Hit Points, Halflings at saves (lamest niche in the book) and elves can cast MU spells (which is a bit of an overlapping niche).

A Dwarf or Halfling does not match up to a Fighter in power level. LotFP's WF is not an example of a balanced RPG, and it isnt meant to be.

Which game would I rather play?

Do you really need to ask? Heh. I want balance as in "you'll have fun playing in a group", not as in "you'll be just as effective as anyone else in your group."

For me, balance means giving all classes and players the potential to shine, not giving them all the same opportunities to shine.

Balance takes away the need to always push yourself as a gamer, to think of unique solutions, to consider role-play before roll-play.

I'm sure MANY of you disagree with the above ;)

Feel free to add your thoughts below.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Picking Thru "The Rule of Three" - Looking at Balance

WotC plans on answering 3 questions a week about the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons 5e release - and I plan on picking thru their answers.  Today I want to look at the question and answer about "balance" in 5e.

 4E was balanced incredibly well when compared to the other systems. In the next iteration of D&D, will balance be as important or will we see some classes being noticeably more powerful than others again?

One of the best things that 4E did for us as designers was that it taught us a lot about game balance. Taking what we've learned over the course of 4E's design, development, and evolution, we can apply those lessons about game balance to the next iteration of D&D. In many ways, one of 4E's biggest contributions was putting new tools in our toolboxes for designing and developing the game—tools that weren't there before. More than that, we've learned how to apply that balance in different ways, allowing us to simply do more than we could before while still remaining balanced.
In my mind, game balance is not about symmetry, but about validating choices. Players want to feel like their choices have value, and especially in a cooperative game it's important to avoid traps that make players feel like they've made a "wrong" choice. Making a different choice, however, is vital. One of the things 4E does well is providing choices that, while not 100% equal, are equally valid, and reflect the play style of the player making choices. As the game evolved, we've found new ways to provide different—but still valid—choices for players looking for something that stands out more, or for something that better fits their play style. We want to take the things we've learned through that process and then apply that to the design of the next iteration of the game.
Balance is in the eye of the beholder. It's a good tool and a valuable thing to have in the game, but it can't come at the price of making the game feel bland or dull. One of the big reasons for our playtest is to ensure that as we balance the system, we attain the right kind of balance, not simply balance as we expect it or balance based purely on numbers.
The other thing about balance is that it should be a tool, and not a handcuff. There are certain things about D&D that are intrinsic properties of the game, things that are a part of D&D because they are D&D. In the process of making the next iteration of the game, we're going to focus on taking all of those intrinsic elements of the game and making the best game possible that includes all of those elements, as they should be. We use the game balance tool to then make sure that we're providing a satisfying experience using all of those elements. To address the specific example in your question, we'll want to make every attempt to make sure that choosing one class or another is still a valid choice, so I would say that class balance is an important thing that we'll be working on.
Lets look at the pieces I bolded in order:
 "In many ways, one of 4E's biggest contributions was putting new tools in our toolboxes for designing and developing the game—tools that weren't there before. "

I thought one of 4E's biggest contributions was giving us Pathfinder as an alternative - but I digress. ;)  I'm going to assume this includes some or all of the following: at will powers, encounter powers, mooks and bosses, equalized progression of "to hit" / "spell penetration" / whatever your class uses to cause damage to the bad guys.

"In my mind, game balance is not about symmetry, but about validating choices."

Alright, this looks to be a step away from 4E, at least in character design.  All classes being pretty much equally effective in combat encounters (flavor may differ) and challenges.  Does this mean some classes may be more effective in combat encounters and others may be more effective in  non-combat situations?  I don't know, but that does seem to be a step away from 4E.

"Balance is in the eye of the beholder. It's a good tool and a valuable thing to have in the game, but it can't come at the price of making the game feel bland or dull. "

This is a slap at 4E.  Balance is the big draw (or push away) for 4E.  Balanced classes, balanced encounters.  When is balance not good?  When it isn't as much fun as not being balanced.  I never got into the 4E rules as they seemed bland to me, despite the flavor on all the powers.  

The other thing about balance is that it should be a tool, and not a handcuff. There are certain things about D&D that are intrinsic properties of the game, things that are a part of D&D because they are D&D.

What would these things be?  My guesses (from my play experience and prejudices):  random stat generation, random Hit Points at each level, random weapon damage - do you notice a theme here?  Randomness - which can be balanced overall, but at the same time is unbalancing.  Vancian magic, spells per level, core races (dwarves, elves, halflings, humans and yes - gnomes).  Races don't need to be 100% balanced in combat, so long as the non combat bonuses give them an edge in those situations.

Of course, the other biggies at the six stats (comeliness can stay away), levels and classes.

It appears that advancements from 4E are the tools that will bring this package together.  How?  I have no friggin' idea, as I see 0e thru 3.5e as an evolution, and 4e as a divergence that has little left of it's roots.  I might be wrong on that assessment (and I'm sure fans of 4E don't see it as I do), but our opinions aren't the concern.  It's how Monte and the rest of the designers feel.

Monte did 3e, then followed with his own redo with Arcana Unearthed (edit: and later Unearthed Arcana - he's rewritten the rules TWICE already)  He's a solid 3e guy.  4e is NOT his child.  It will be interesting to see how his new design progresses.

Gnomes in 5E - Garden Gnomes or Something More Sinister

Remember the marketing for the D&D 4e rules? The mocking of Gnomes and general tearing apart of all things 3.5e.

Do you think WotC has learned their lesson?

Will they actually be able to introduce a new edition without they themselves fanning the flames of the next edition war like they fanned the flames in the last edition war?

Will gnomes be brought back as a core race, or relegated to the MM as they were at the start of 4e?

Does it even matter?

Have any of you actually played a Gnome in any edition of Dungeons & Dragons?

Do you own a Garden Gnome?

Do Garden Gnomes scare you?

The fate of 5e rests in your hands...

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Myth of THAC0 - E6'ing the OSR (First Thoughts)

First things first - here is a link to the E6 rules (all 13 pages including the OGL).  It a fairly quick read.  Essentially, it is a series of house rules to enable you to have your 3X campaign max out at 6th level, yet still allow for character improvement.

A few things to note from the OSR side of things - it uses feats.  After hitting 6th level, players will spend newly earned expo on attaining new feats.  We in the OSR despise feats.  Or, at the very least, we don't feel we need them.

Still, the examples used for spell casters are well thought out, and can easily carry over to an OSR version of the rules as they grant new spells known or spell casting slots (remember, standard progression ends at 6th level)

An E6 OSR game would have the following benefits:
     THAC0 capped at sixth level, giving a character a max to hit adjustment for level of +6
     Hit Dice capped at 6th level, reducing the potential of excessive hit point pool
     Appropriate Armor Class should stay reasonable
     Casters come into their own and are effective without the game busting spells of the higher levels
     Thieves have decent class ability without being excessive

Still, part of the fun of roleplaying is character advancement and improvement.  Without feats to draw upon, what can characters spend expo on to improve?

Fighter / Fighter sub classes could spend on weapon of choice, specialization, improved attack rate, a small (1 or 2 point) HP bump and possibly some specifically chosen (limited number) of feats from 3e, like Power Attack and Cleave

Clerics could spend on a weapon of choice (deity specific), new spell slots, improved turning, improved healing, minor magic item creation

Thieves could spend on increasing their thieving abilities and backstab, two weapon fighting feat

Magic Users could spend on new (extra) spell slots, new learned spells, minor magic item creation

Also small stat bumps could be bought, not to exceed racial maximums.

I'm sure there are other benefits these classes could learn to keep the improvement going without the class leveling / hps / THAC0 and AC going much past what is appropriate for level 6.  Let me know of any you might think of.

Yes, its an artificial ceiling.  But as a few have pointed out in the comments to the other Myth of THAC0 posts, some of the best campaigns top out in the mid levels.  This is a way to keep the campaign at that sweet point.

Let me know what you think.  I'm looking at a simple set of guidelines that would work with any of the OSR / Basic / Advanced rules.  I've got ideas, but I'm always willing to work with yours.

The Myth of THAC0 - And the Compounding of Hit Points

There were a lot of really great comments on my first two Myth of THAC0 posts. A few touched on the issue of buckets of Hit Points.

As bad as it was in AD&D 1e & 2e, especially with Rangers that had a CON bonus, it's gotten worse with later editions.

Up until 2e, HD capped at name level (generally between 9th and 11th levels). 3e kept the dice rolling with each level gained, there was no limit, and a high CON's bonus to Hit Points just increased the never ending pool.

Pathfinder adds even more HP, increasing the HD size of all classes but the fighter and cleric one size up, so a rogue with d6 in 3e now has a d8. Max HP are given at first level also.

D&D 4e starts players with 15 + CON, so figure an average of 25 HP at first level.

Higher HP will lead to longer combats unless offset by increasing THAC0 or lowering the effects of armor. All three are intricately connected. The last thing a game at my table needs is longer combats.

Still, excessive HP can still be a problem even in OSR style games. How do we keep the game in it's sweet spot - the lower and mid levels?

I'll be taking a look over the next few days at E6, the OGL game that tops out at 6th level, with the idea of seeing if the concepts can be applied to OSR gaming.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Myth of THAC0 - Complications of Removal

If you accept the idea that an improving THAC0 is not needed by most classes depending on the type of campaign run (especially low magic / low fantasy type settings), there is still an unforeseen complication - Strength becomes a prime stat for the middle combatant classes (clerics / rogues and the like).  (The Myth of THAC0)

If THAC0 will never increase for these classes (or has a slowed increase as in Castles & Crusades), a Strength Bonus is more important than it would be if these classes had their normal progression.  A +2 bonus to hit from Strength may be the only bonus a cleric or specialist (let alone any of the demi-human classes) will ever see to their ability to hit opponents in combat in LotFP's Weird Fantasy (by default a very low magic setting).  Actually, in WF, clerics really get no class related bonuses for a high wisdom (except crafting at higher levels), so one would be best served by putting their best score in Strength to become a viable 2nd line combatant.

Interestingly, neither Castles & Crusades nor Weird Fantasy slows down the combat progression of the fighter class.  You still have a class capable of mowing down mooks, as well as improving in their ability to hit level appropriate enemies in Weird Fantasy.  Castles & Crusades is different, as non fighter classes do increase in THAC0 (although slower then in classic D&D systems) and magic items (weapons and armor) are assumed in the system.

My feeling is that THAC0 means much less in Weird Fantasy then any off the other OSR style games, and is therefore less of a perk than it appears.  Sure, they'll be nearly auto-hitting most opponents at higher levels, but the damage output will remain fairly static as hit points rise on both sides of the combat.  Combats are going to be decided by attrition (which happens in many high level D&D style games, but without a corresponding increase in damage output it's going to be longer then usual.

Which then leads to the following thought.  Armor Class, Bonus to Hit and Hit Points all impact on each other.  You tweak one, and it effects all in some manner or form.  If you tweak the THAC0 to be less powerful, do you need to do the same with AC or HP to keep balance?  Or do you just accept the idea that combats will take longer?

(The post at the Howling Tower that got me thinking...)

The Myth of THAC0

I read on another blog a few days ago (very new blog from 2012 - if you know it PLEASE let me know!) that BAB / BtH / THAC0 are all pretty much bullshit.  You aren't climbing a ladder when your character's chance to hit increases, because your level appropriate adversaries see a corresponding increase in Armor Class protection.  In effect, you are running up a down escalator.

The first game in the Dungeons & Dragons family that seem to recognize this was Castles & Crusades.  The combat bonus rate of increase for all classes with the exception of fighter based classes took a sizable hit from the D&D norm.  The cleric took the most noticeable hit his combat abilities from the D&D norm. I'm sure the main reason for this chance was to give the fighting classes a more noticeable niche of their own.  Still, it takes some of the importance off of AC / BtH.  As long as ACs don't increase at huge rate, there is less need to increase BtH and less need to pile on the magic items.

Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess' Weird Fantasy RPG takes it a huge step further.  He totally removes any kind of combat skill advancement from all classes but the Fighter.  My initial reaction to this was a severe need and desire to house rule combat advancement back for the rest of the classes (and I probably would for Dwarves and Halfling, as they really have nothing going for them as it stands).  After taking a step back (and a few months away from my initial reaction) I realized this system works in the default setting of LotFP's Weird Fantasy RPG - 95% of your adversaries are normal men and such, fantastic creatures are unique and custom made and the world is magic poor.  Adversaries aren't going to be increasing in Armor Class all that greatly as the PCs level, and neither will the parties AC be changing all that much.  In some ways, the Fighter's niche of combat advancement is smaller then expected, as it is less valuable in a system that keeps Armor Class numbers within the realm of the non-fantasic.

It's an elegant solution to running up the down escalator.

I remember playing AD&D, back in my younger days, and if the party's front line wasn't in the negative numbers for AC by the time they were nearing name level, they were going to be hurting.  Just to maintain their place in the THAC0 / AC race, the need to dump magic armor and weapons an them was huge.  Such was the start of the Christmas Tree PCs  that were much the talk in 3e.  There are no Christmas Tree PCs in Weird Fantasy.

So, when your Fighter increases in his BAB in Swords & Wizardry, remember it's basically a wash.  Maybe not when fighting the mooks, but then they are books for a reason.  Your Fighter's increase in his to hit bonus has just been offset by a decrease in your level appropriate adversary's Armor Class.  Holy Shit!  Raggi was right! ;)

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Tenkar's Tavern is supported by various affiliate programs, including Amazon, RPGNow,
and Humble Bundle as well as Patreon. Your patronage is appreciated and helps keep the
lights on and the taps flowing. Your Humble Bartender, Tenkar

Blogs of Inspiration & Erudition