Saturday, February 4, 2012

Comparing Google+ to Blogger For Posting Purposes

I've been cross posting my Blogger posts to Google+ for the past few weeks and I've noticed some differences in the comments between the two.  Blogger tends to get fewer (often much fewer) comments,  but the comments themselves are frequently longer.

Google+ tends toward more but shorter comments.  It's more immediate and less polished in general, but definitely more lively.

This post: What Are Your 5E Deal Makers / Breakers? had 9 comments on Blogger, 266 on G+.  Admittedly, the G+ thread had some cross talk going on, but that's still a factor of 1 to 26 in terms of comments.

I'm interested in the next integration step between G+ and Blogger, as I suspect it will blur the lines between the two.

Real or Memorex? - Short Comparison of the Tabletop Experience to Google+ Hangout

Although I have years upon years of tabletop roleplaying experience and a couple of recent years of playing roleplaying games via Fantasy Grounds (a VTT), it hasn't been until the last few weeks that I've actually had the opportunity to sit at a table and game AND sit at my computer screen and game (using an actual RPG) during the same week.

The experience, at least with Google+ Hangout, is strangely similar.  Same bad jokes (at least coming from my direction), similar excitement when the party overcomes a dangerous obstical, you get to see facial expressions (which can be preceless) - the list can go on.

There are some major differences.  Dice rolling is NOT the same.  Using an online die roller vs. chucking your own is definitely second place.  As for the voice part, you do tend to talk over others using G+.

Still, both are heads and shoulders over not playing, or playing a MMORPG.  Just sayin'.

Digging Into the Adventurer Conqueror King System - Covering the Classes (Human)

This is going to be the first part of a multipart look at the Adventurer Conqueror King System (as voted for by my friends at Google+).  I figure I'll attack the book pretty much in order, passing over the introduction and moving on to section 2 - Characters. (My quick mini review of ACKS is here).

The default method of character generation is definitely "Old School".  3d6 IN order!  An included optional rule allows one to roll up additional back-up characters to insert in the campaign when your current character dies (these characters can also be used by the Judge/GM as NPC in the meantime).  Yeah, run as written, even the character generation rules hint that it's a fairly lethal system ;)

Stats are listed in the "Old School" order of Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution and finally Charisma.  This is still the way I list my stats unless I make a conscious effort to do otherwise.  It's nice to have a system that matches my ingrained memory.

Hit Dice for the character classes range for a D4 for the Mage to a D8 for the Fighter.  Classes hit their max at 14th level and reach their last class title at 9th (ex: Warlord for fighters and Wizard for mages) and that's when HD max out.  THAC0 is slightly slower the AD&D (probably in line with B/X, but I can't confirm as they are packed away).  Saves are the typical 5 categories you see in the OSR.  All classes get proficiencies, which can be class based or general.  I'll focus on them with a later post.

Fighters are pretty basic.  They (as well as the other classes) will differentiate or specialize by their skill selection.  Mages can cast spells up to 6th level (upon attaining 11th).  Clerics can also cast spell of up to 6th level, and do not get 1st level spells until reaching ins level cleric.  Thieves get he usual list of thief abilities, successful use of which requires the roll of a d20.  The abilities are purely level based, there is no point pool like in some variations in the OSR.

Assassins fight as fighters and get HD, backstab and some stealth abilities as thieves.

Bards are masters of  lore and can inspire courage in their party (bonuses to most rolls).  They can also dabble with magic items usable only by mages, read languages and inspire loyalty in his henchman and hirelings at 5th level.

Bladedancers are a female cleric / fighter class.  d6 HD, turn undead, cast spells (limited to 5th level spells) and fight like a cleric.  Unlike clerics the can only use slashing and piecing weapons and are lightly armored.

Explorers are "almost rangers".  They fight like fighters, have a D6 for HD and get stealth abilities outdoors.  They are also useful in keeping the party from getting lost.

Alright, next up (maybe even later today if I can squeeze in the time) I'll discuss the non-human classes.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mini Review: The Secret Fire GM Screen - Keeper of the Unknown

I don't believe I've ever reviewed a GM / DM Screen before, let alone one available in PDF (you insert it into a blank GM screen available in fine hobby shops everywhere).  The Secret Fire - Keeper of the Unknown is my first attempt to do so.

It has 6 sides / pages, so even if you just printed it out for reference as the gaming table, the charts themselves should help expedite play.  It does not, however, list which pages should face the PC and which should face the GM.  My assumption is pages 1, 2 and 4 should face the players and 3, 5 and 6 should face the GM (as such I am is disagreement with the official lay out - sue me ;).  Kinda quirky, they should have been grouped together in my opinion.

The Energy Point Special Effects Cost Charts for Weapon Attacks, Spells and Exploration are on page 2, and are almost with the price on their own.  I suspect these charts are the most referenced in The Secret Fire, and will suffer wear similar to those that the Combat Tables suffered in the AD&D 1E Dungeon Masters Guide.

The rest of the included charts are used for movement, lighting, stat bonuses and penalties, combat and battle sequence and the aptly named Revenge of the Elder Gods.  Hmm, maybe I missed a few bits n' pieces, but you get the main idea.  The most commonly used charts are put at your finger tips, which is as it should be.

Do you need this to run The Secret Fire?  Of course not.  If you've been running the game since release, you have at least 6 months of campaigning behind you, and you survived without it.  Will it make it easier for you to run a campaign or game session?  Definitely.  It's a tool you don't absolutely need, but you will want.

Later on down the line there should be a physical GM Screen for The Secret Fire, but for now a print out of the PDF should serve you fine.

From the blurb:

This 6-page, printable screen for THE SECRET FIRE enables Master Creators to keep the secrets of the game hidden from the players and provides a quick reference to commonly needed material for both MCs and players alike:
The Players' Side features:
• Energy Point Special Effects for Weapon Attacks, Prayers & Spells, and Exploration
• Light source areas of illumination and durations
• "Revenge of the Elder God" tables for Critical Failures
• Effects of all States (Blind, Deaf, Pinned, Vulnerable, etc.)

The MC's Side features:
• Attack Matrix
• Ability scores and their associated Adjustments and Descriptors
• List of Skills and Difficulty Levels
• Daily, Exploration, and Battle Sequences
• Common attack adjustments
• The Montage System
• Wound Effects
• Damage description table
• Effects of all States (Blind, Deaf, Pinned, Vulnerable, etc.)

Note that the PDF is large (approximately 100 mg) to retain the highest print-quality possible. Pages can be printed out and inserted into generic game master screens available at local and online hobby stores or clipped to screens from other RPGs for use during SECRET FIRE game sessions. You can also save each of the six pages as a 72 dpi jpeg for use on iPads, iPhones, or other tablet or mobile devices.  In addition, the file was created for full-page bleed, so depending on your printer, you may have to shrink it to around 95%. (The file was created this way since a printed version of the screen will be released later in 2012.)

From Nada to Alotta - Balancing the Time

When the Castles & Crusades game I had been playing in via Fantasy Grounds came to an end early last year (and that had previously dropped from a weekly game to a monthly game) I was suddenly left with no regular gaming on the horizon.  If it wasn't for a session of play testing for White Haired Man, there would have been no gaming for me in 2011.

Truth to tell, by the time summer arrived, wedding plans, preparations and the like drove thoughts of gaming from my mind.  And so it was, until 2012.  Now I find myself married and in a steady game on Saturday Nights and steady gaming on Wednesday Nights.  The first game due to a fortuitous invite, and the second thanks to my wife, who told me to "Go Forth and Game!"  She has designated Wednesday night as her Yoga night.  The Saturday night game if via Google+ Hangout, so I'm still home.  I think my wife threw that one in as a freebie ;)

Dare I ask he for a third night?  I'm not sure if I can, but there is a Legends / RuneQuest campaign starting damn soon, and it looks cool.  Problem is, for the next few weeks it's on Saturday afternoons, and I have a contractor working on my kitchen the first saturday, a birthday party for my wife's brother and sister the following saturday, and a housewarming party I previously committed to the saturday after that.

Sigh.  My limit might be two nights without upsetting the balance of wedded bliss.

How many games can you squeeze in weekly / monthly before being shown the dog house? ;)

Pilfering the Podcasts

Thanks to an appeal I made yesterday on Google+, I now have a large selection of RPG related podcasts to download, listen to, digest and in the end, pilfer for blog post ideas. In all probability I won't know each time I'm pilfering, but I'm acknowledging it before the fact ;)

That being said, I'm more than happy for folks to add suggestions (even duplications) to the list, either on G+ or here on the blog. It doesn't hurt to understand why folks think certain podcasts are the best.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mini Review - Adventurer Conqueror King System (OSR)

For those that might (or might not remember) I first started talking about the Adventurer Conquer King System last summer, when I found it on Kickstarter.  I liked that it allowed one to change the focus to Kingdom building if you wanted to as the game progressed.  Heck, my first YouTube video (before the dragon got into the act) featured the GenCon Limited Release of ACKS.

What does this offer that the OSR books and rules already in your collection don't?  Four new racial classes: two for Dwarves and two for Elves.  Stats listed in the classic order.  A proficiency system.  The traditional four human classes and the assassin, bard, blade dancer and explorer.  Did I mention each class level is named, just like in AD&D?  Yep ;)

If you've played (A)D&D or any of the clones, you should be in fairly familiar territory.  Heck, and of the classes included should port fairly easily to Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord.

There are some fairly unique sections too.  Strongholds, domains, and even mercantile ventures are addressed.  Yes, your character may just outgrow the dungeon life.

If you are the do-it-yourself type of DM, there's a section on building your own campaign setting. It is full of charts dealing with populations, political divisions, revenue by realm type (and comparisons to historical data)... I could go on, but I won't.  This section is unique in my gaming experience, and could certainly be sold as it's own small universal supplement.  If you play in any fantasy type RPG and are interested in building your own campaign, many of the tools are here.  It is also very sandboxie in nature, which is a huge selling point in my eyes.

There is even a section (with random tables no less - can never have enough of them) on designing and placing your own dungeons.  Complete with wandering monster tables.  Whee!

I do have a question.  There are 8 human classes, 2 dwarves classes and 2 elven classes.  Dwarves and Elves are discussed as a race in their class descriptions (I didn't notice racial modifiers).  No halfling or gnome classes, but the races do appear on the starting age table and in the Monster Section.  Strange omission, especially as they are reference in a chart that deals only with player races.  Easy enough to fix and draft in from outside sources, but one shouldn't have to.

Overall a very nice addition to the OSR stable.  I just wish they hadn't overlooked the 2 shortest races.  Heck, even Raggi let the Halfling in Weird Fantasy ;)

edit:  forgot to mention the excellent hyperlinking in the Table of contents and the Index.  Makes up for shorting the short races.  heh :)

From the blurb:

Enter a world where empires totter on the brink of war, and terrible monsters tear at the fragile borderlands of men; where decaying cities teem with chaos and corruption, nubile maidens are sacrificed to chthonic cults and nobles live in decadent pleasure on the toil of slaves; where heroes, wizards, and rogues risk everything in pursuit of glory, fortune, and power. This is a world where adventurers can become conquerors – and conquerors can become kings.
Will you survive the perils of war and dark magic to claim a throne? Or will you meet your fate in a forgotten ruin beyond the ken of men?
The Adventurer Conqueror King System™ (ACKS) is a new fantasy role-playing game that provides the framework for epic fantasy campaigns with a sweeping scope. With the Adventurer Conqueror King System™ you can:
  • Play 12 different classes, including the fighter, mage, thief, cleric, assassin, bard, bladedancer, explorer, dwarven craftpriest, dwarven vaultguard, elven nightblade, and elven spellsword.
  • Easily customize your character using a unique, optional proficiency system. Make your fighter a berserker or your mage a necromancer!
  • Buy, sell, and trade common merchandise, precious silks and spices, and even monster parts and magic items in a balanced and integrated game economy.
  • Construct strongholds, establish kingdoms, and carve out a realm for your character.
  • Run a thieves' guild and send your minions to carouse, smuggle, steal, and commit other hijinks.
  • Establish a wizard's sanctum and explore the forbidden arts. Crossbreed horrific monsters in an underground laboratory, enact powerful magical rituals, build golems, craft magic items, or even transform yourself and your followers into undead monsters.
  • Build and run a living world for adventure on a grand scale. With game mechanics built to support emergent play, ACKS is the ultimate RPG for sandbox campaigns.
Whether you want to crawl through dungeons, trade with merchant caravans, run a merchant emporium, conquer an empire, or even raise an undead legion, ACKS supports your playstyle with simple, fast-playing game mechanics.
To learn more, visit the Autarch website.

To Grid or Not To Grid, Is That the Question?

At last night's game (not to be named) we used a battle mat and dry erase markers. It reminded me of using a whiteboard in the Fantasy Grounds 2 VTT.

It wasn't detailed, it didn't look like a board game, and distances weren't accurately measured but eyeballed for the most part.

So, you could visualize where everyone was in reference to each other (and the baddies) without being sucked into the battle map / grid / work of art and without being locked into "move 4 squares, then spend a 1/3 action pivoting, counting diagonal moves as 1.2 squares, rounds up... yadda yadda".

Grids make me feel like I should be breaking out my 1st edition Warhammer 40k boxed set, and doing some unit on unit combat. Needless to say my old group used to balk at that. It was never our style.

Could a whiteboard styled battle "map" be a working compromise in the Hatfields and McCoys - er, I mean the Old School / New School divide?

I doubt it will satisfy the extremists (most vocal fanboys?) on either side of the argument, but it might be a way for the moderates to meet in the middle.

Then again, the US Congress is a dysfunctional entity with uncompromising extremists on both sides of the isle - why should our hobby be any different? ;)

Another Successful "Games That Can Not Be Named" Night

Last night's "Games That Can Not Be Named" was held at the Brooklyn Strategist in, where else, Brooklyn.

The turnout was, dare I say it? Huge. Four full tables of role playing and a table in the back of board games. Easily over 30 people in attendance.

Another Non-Disclosure Agreement signed, so I can't talk about the game that was on the menu. I will say that I brought dice I could actually read, and got to use pretty much each of the standard dice, but the D20 was the one I used the most. If it was a gem die, I would have been fucked ;)

Tavis, our GM and one of the folks behind the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System was aces. The GM is always more important then the system in play, at least when he's a good one. Our's was great.

I wish I had been able to stay until 11PM, but I had a minor family emergency I had to handle at home.

No T&T talk this time around (my partner in crime was gaming at another table) but there was more then enough gaming talk to keep me satisfied.

Next week GTCNBN returns to SoHo on Sullivan Street. I'll be there, enjoying the next game on the list.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Do We Need 5E to Bridge the Different Editions?

D&D 5e is being billed as the Rosetta Stone for the different versions of Dungeons & Dragons. Is that what we need from it?

Yesterday's post asking readers (both on the blog and Google+) what they wanted and did not want in 5e generated some heated responses, especially on the G+ thread (250 comments - holy carp!).

It obvious that we know what we want, and what we dont want, in an RPG. Can a single game offer everyone in the hobby an experience that suits their tastes? Should one even try to bridge those gaps?

Monte's article on what each edition boiled down to was, in my humble opinion, a load of horse crap written by a marketing guy. Each edition has it's own feel, it's own personality that goes beyond mere rules. To think that you can capture such from each edition and combine it into a working whole, let alone a working whole that the majority of D&D players from all editions will flock to is a fools errand.

I think Monte, in his heart, knows that. He can either embrace the rules from 0e through 3e, or build them with 3.5e and 4e. He may be giving lip service to being all inclusive, but I suspect "certain restrictions will apply."

We don't need a new edition of D&D that tries to be everything and pleases no one. We need a game that respects the history of the brand.

None of us, from the Grognards through the fans of 4e NEED a new system. No one is obligated to play it, let alone but it.

If they want us, any of us, they need to decide which segment of their historical base they are looking to please, to bring back to the fold.

Judging from the success of Pathfinder, I think they've identified their target. Lets see how accurate they are in pulling it off.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Makes an RPG an RPG?

Wikipedia defines Table Top Role-playing the following way:

Tabletop or pen-and-paper (PnP) RPGs are conducted through discussion in a small social gathering. The GM describes the game world and its inhabitants. The other players describe the intended actions of their characters, and the GM describes the outcomes.[14] Some outcomes are determined by the game system, and some are chosen by the GM.[15]

This is the format in which role-playing games were first popularized. The first commercially available RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), was inspired by fantasy literature and the wargaming hobby and was published in 1974.[16] The popularity of D&D led to the birth of the tabletop role-playing game industry, which publishes games with a wide variety of themes, rules, and styles of play.[17]

This format is often referred to simply as a role-playing game. To distinguish this form of RPG from other formats, the retronyms tabletop role-playing game or pen and paper role-playing game are sometimes used, though neither a table nor pen and paper are strictly necessary.[4
 Personally, I think that definition is kinda vague, but maybe we do need a vague definition.  4e players (alright, some of the more vocal proponents) often the see Old School RPGs, where the GM is empowered and not every situation has a rule as some sort of glorified group story telling event.  Old School players (I'll include myself so you know where to aim the slings and arrows) see 4e as a glorified board game / individual sized unit wargame hybrid.  I'm surprised it lacks rules to define when, where and what dice to roll when you PC has to defecate (that's a joke son.  as in taking the situation and making an extreme example. no 4e players were truly harmed making this comment).

So, lets take a step away from D&D and it's various incarnations for a moment, and take a some classic RPGs.

Rolemaster - rule heavy as all shit, yet enough gaping holes in it that a GM had to be ready to improvise.  Charts galore and very lethal.  Even high level character's could die with one lucky blow (or scratch from a cat)

RuneQuest - very lethal combat.  Where you might get into combat in Rolemaster to play with the crit charts, a wise party avoided combat whenever possible.  Skill based, you generally sucked and most stuff until you got further along.

Paranoia - specifically first edition - death was inevitable, even fun.  Keeping th pace moving was the key.  The rules had more holes then swiss cheese.

Call of Cthulhu - lethal combat.  Letha game.  Your C might do something heroic, but they weren't heroes.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay - great atmosphere, amazing setting, engaging PC history built into the career system.  Fairly crappy game system, but so much fun we didnt care.

Traveller - lethal combat.  Your starting skills were your skills for life.  No expo ladder to climb.  Best sci-fi RPG I ever played, bar none.

Tunnels & Trolls - an early fantasy RPG without the funny dice.  Horrid layout in the rulebook, excellent simple system for role playing.  Less rules then even OD&D from covering situations. 

None of these required a grid / battle map.  Scratch out a quick diagram of the situation and go with it.  There was generally less emphasis on the PC's skills and more emphasis on Player skill then in later editions of D&D.  (by player skill, i mean "making decisions as a player to increase the chance of your PC surviving", not "look at the tower of dice I can build before it all falls down!" although that was fun too)

So, we went from no grid, to an optional grid (3e), to a necessary grid (3.5e and 4e) possibly back to an optional grid (5e).  How many other games require a grid these days?

I played in a Warhammer 40k Dark Heresy campaign for a bit - no grid.  I don't think any of the FATE system based RPGs require a grid.  Mongoose RQ2 / Legend?  Doubt it, could be wrong.  Pathfinder?  It's like 3.75 D&D, so i think the grid is etched into the system.  Heck, most of the recent indi RPGs dont require grids.

Come to think of it, D&D from 3e on is probably the most heavy game in regards to rules, skills powers and the like (well, excluding the universal games:  GURPS, HERO, Rifts (so good, so broken) and such.  Heck, even Savage Worlds can break the rules down to a fairly slim, undersized paperback.

So, when did D&D decide that more was better?  At what point do the rules hinder role play?  Heck, do lack of enough defining rules put too much emphasis on role play?  Can you put too much emphasis on role play?  Is immersion in the game easier with few rules, or do more rules help you define what you want to immerse yourself in?

We have had rules heavy RPGs since the beginning of the hobby.  Heavy rules and light rules fill their own niches.  Where is 5e going to fall in this mess?  Is it going to fill more then one niche?  Can any game cover both ends of the spectrum?

Everyone has an ideal system / style / comfort zone in the role playing hobby.  You have to match the player to a system, and then match other players who also match the system.  It aint easy.

5e claims it will fill multiple niches.  Multiple desires.  It will be what you want it to be.  A doppelganger if you will.  Or a Frankensystem, with a 3e base and other generations of D&D grafted to it. 

Rules light or heavy, no grid or grid with blast templates, rolled HP or standard advancement - they are different ways to play role playing games.  Rules light emphasizes the role play aspect, rules heavy emphasized the game aspect.  Maybe 5e will split the baby down the middle.

Thus the great divide.

Damn Dice!

Ashley Loves Her Dice
I have a huge collection of RPG dice sets, going back over 30 years.  Heck, I even bought a set in preparation of receiving my copy of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG - yes, even the funny sided dice.

But I learned something last week.  Those gem style dice that look so cool & pretty?  I can't read them for shit with these 44 year old eyes without picking them up off the table.  Sigh.

Most of my dice are packed away, but I was able to put together two ugly yet readable sets and some extra d10s, d20s and some 6's for tomorrow night's Games That Cannot Be Named in Brooklyn.  Last week in SoHo was a blast, and I expect more of the same ;)

Anyone else having Old Man Dice Issues?  I'm pissed that I may have to retire some nice gem sets, but inking them wouldn't be the same (and probably still wouldn't be as readable as solid inked dice).

Oh, and the huge d20 in the front should help too ;)

What Are Your 5E Deal Makers / Breakers?

D&D 5e is in the works. The designers want to make a game that players from all the various editions of D&D can come together and enjoy. Great in concept - a horror to implement.

What features would you want included to make this The D&D Game in your eyes - or at the very least, the minimum you would need to even give it an honest look?

For me, it's a return to unique classes. Where every class has its role. Empowering the DM. Role play before role play. Vancian magic.

My deal breakers? A necessary combat grid. A rule for every possible situation. Every class having something to do in every situation. Every class having (super) powers.

What are yours?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Picking Apart Monte's Latest 5e Column- Uniting the Editions - Part 1

In an earlier column, I mentioned that one of the goals of the new iteration of Dungeons & Dragons was to unite the editions. Judging by the reaction, this is a contentious topic, and an important one. So let's delve into it more deeply.  (original article without my comments is here)

First off, why is that our goal? There are many reasons. First and foremost (is that we need to convert the greatest number of gamers who felt disenfranchised when 4E was released.  Please, come back to WotC, we are waiting for you!), however, is that if you're playing any version of Dungeons & Dragons, you're a D&D player and a "part of the fold." (Be that as it may, the play styles between the two extremes of the editions are very nearly polar opposites.  It goes beyond just "the rules") The days of edition wars and divided factions among D&D fans are over. Or at least, they should be. (In fact, they should have never started.) (Okay... they are not over.  The fact that WotC themselves fanned the flames of the 3e / 4e schism makes me suspicious of this line.  But Monte was gone before the decision was made to go to 4e, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt)  I'll be frank: the fracturing of the D&D community, no matter what the cause, is just foolish. (It's foolish because WotC needs gamers to come back to the fold under 5E if they are to make the newest edition a success.  Maybe they did learn from the last Edition War)  We all have far more in common than we have differences.  (Not so sure you can bridge the OSR / 4E gap so easily, but I like Monte, so we'll see)

So a rules system that allows people to play in the style that they like, rather than a style that a game designer or game company wants them to like, makes a lot more sense. (and is a great trick if you can pull it off) As a designer myself, I know that it's not my job to convince you to play D&D in a particular way. It's my job to give you the tools you need to play the way you want and then get out of your way. And that's what the new iteration of Dungeons & Dragons is meant to be about. There is no wrong way to play D&D (sure there is, but you just dont want to tell us ;).

But what does it mean to play in the "style" of various editions? That's a complex issue. It has involved, for me and my fellow designers, looking at the different editions and trying to distill down the essence of each one. For example, is it important that "elf" remains a class to someone who enjoyed Original D&D (1974) or Basic D&D? I'd argue, no. What's far more important for that player is an open-ended system with a lot of emphasis on the Dungeon Master, lots of exploration, and simple mechanics that enable fast combat, to name just a few things. (In other words, everything that 4e is NOT.  4e took the emphasis away from the DM, away from exploration, away from simplicity but added long combats and a challenge for just about everything)

As a contrast, AD&D (that is to say, 1E) involved more specific mechanics to create a more unified play experience from table to table. This included a more careful eye toward "realism," or perhaps more accurately, "simulation." But by modern standards, the game was still fairly simple, and things moved quickly. There were options for miniatures and tactical play, but most 1E fans did not use them. (Likewise, there were options for very high simulation, such as weapon speeds and the weapons vs. armor table, but most people didn't use them either.) (I'm not so sure if these were options or rules 90% of us chose to ignore, but whatever, call them options) 1E fans—and I'm of course overgeneralizing here—want many of the same things that BD&D lovers want, but with a few more options and a bit more simulation.  (Fuck me, I read that as "a bit more stimulation".  I'd be happy with that too ;)

Then 2E came along and made only minor changes to the rules, but it made important changes to the style of gameplay. The Player's Handbook was not significantly different, but the Dungeon Master's Guide was. We started reading phrases such as "it's all about the story." Worldbuilding became more important than adventure design. If in OD&D one DM might say to another, "let me tell you about my dungeon," in the 2E era, a DM might say to another, "let me tell you about my world." (who had time for world design in the 2e era?  TSR was putting out a new world every few months it seemed - they had world design down pat) As the system developed with many supplements (and way too fucking many unbalanced Complete Handbooks - if Wizards goes this route I'll start my own Occupy Movement in their HQ lobby), simulation and game balance (see, he knows balance went out the window with kits like the Bladesinger) took a back seat to story, setting, and interesting characters. Kits and nonweapon proficiencies, some of the major new(-ish) changes, showcased character development in interesting ways. This suggests that, broadly speaking, 2E players enjoy epic storylines and tools to create well-developed characters.  (it suggest sthat maybe you want to make sure you don't turn the system to shit with unbalanced kits)

With the advent of 3E, which brought along many significant rules changes (mainly the OGL as a rule for third party publishers), the game's design once again embraced simulation, and balance became more important. Character development became even more of a focus (see, he doesn't mean defining your character as a "person", he means as a pile of stats, skills, feats, yadda yadda), and all flavor was backed up with mechanics. Less responsibility was put upon the Dungeon Master as various actions and options were specifically mechanically defined and standardized. (This is when the game started becoming, dare I say it, "complicated" and no longer suitable for a pick up style of gaming) Combat became far more complex (especially with 3.5e, as the grid became all important), and while it was also more interesting, it moved more slowly. Miniatures became an important focus. Fans of 3E want even more options for their character customization—skills, feats, and so on—and the ability to play interesting, tactical combats with a high level of detail. (Again, with 3e you could still go gridless - 3.5e, not so well)

When 4E debuted, the game once again underwent a radical change. This time, the most significant change was the way character classes were expressed. Balance and standardization became even more important (and thus ruining the game {it's my opinion, I can say it} with standardization), combat more complex (why the hell would we want something more complex the 3.5e combat?  it's a roleplaying game, not a wargame), and cinematic action and heroic power levels were the focus. Character powers ensured that everyone always had something interesting and dynamic to do every round (which is just how real life is... right?  No, its how a fucking MMORPG is.  Dungeons & Warcraft). The DM had even less responsibility (and you would want to be a DM in 4e because?  Bueler?  Bueler?), and her job was made easier with interesting innovations to NPC and monster design (but the combat was more complex, and there was a challenge for everything - which simplifies things how?  unless, what is meant is that you really didn't need a DM in 4e.  That could be cool!). Miniatures and a grid were absolutely required. (Boo!)  4E players like even more balance and tactical play, and they want even more interesting and straightforward options for their characters (and this will match with earlier editions exactly HOW?). In addition, simple and quick preparation for the DM is a must.

A lot of sweeping generalizations? Sure. I was/am a fan of all of those versions of the game (I call friendly "Bullshit!" here.  Monte is most certainly NOT a 4e guy.  He designed 3e.  What do you think the core of 5e is going to be?), so some or all of those descriptions apply to me, and not all of them are compatible in a straightforward manner. Still, it's useful to begin to realize the various kinds of needs and desires different players and DMs have. To truly unite all the editions, the game needs to cater to all of them (best of luck.  Alas, poor Monte, we knew him well ;) In short, people need to be able to play the game that they want to play.  (Which we are.  Will 5e also fill that role?  Time will tell)

Maybe I did some ranting up above.  It's accurate ranting tho' ;)

What House Rules Did / Do You Use To Give the PCs an Edge in the Beginning of Play?

Maybe "edge" is too strong a word, but "helping hand" seems so lame ;)

In my AD&D campaigns, it was roll 3 sets of 4d6 (best 3 of 4) and keep the set you wanted.  The DM got to keep the discarded sets as handy dice arrays for NPCs.

I also gave max HP at first level (I hated to see TPKs at any level, let alone first due to bad HP rolls), and counted rolled 1s as 2s for later HP rolls.

Of course, this was all learned after allowing players to use the Unearthed Arcana Stat Generation Aberration.  Used it once - the horror!

So, what little house rules do you throw in to give PCs in your campaigns a slight edge?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Are Your PCs Disposable Heroes?

I'm an OSR type of guy, and I had a conversation with a 4E playing friend on Google+ earlier today.  When i told him (in reference to a statement from "Greg" who was asking the 5e designers questions about 5e) that I couldn't comprehend planning a character 20 levels in advance, he told me that is because in 3e and 4e, player characters are no longer "disposable" like in the earlier editions of D&D.

Were your PCs all that disposable in earlier editions?  Mine weren't.  I was attached to them, and even have a collection of my original "Goldenrod" character sheets.  My first character (AD&D) died before he hit level 6 (poor Cyrus the Fighter), but Striker the Paladin hit 17 (complete with a Monte Hall collection of goodies) with just one death in his early teens - thank the gods for Resurrection spells, as all they recovered were a few of his bones after the battle.

The thing is, in my classic time of playing, especially in my college years, few campaigns made it to name level, let alone beyond.  It wasn't from lack of time to play, it was due in large part to the awesome number of choices to play.  TSR releasing settings faster then 2e splatbooks meant lots of starts, stops, reboots and the such.

Still, death was always there for the PCs.  Each campaign suffered PC death, but by the time the players hit 6th or 7th level they were usually well enough equipped that death was rare, and usually climatic if it happened (and party resources often meant a Raise Dead or such would right the wrong assuming there was no TPK).  Reaching name level was a huge accomplishment, both for time invested and in player skill.  

No player in any game I played in, even in the Monte Hall games of my youth, ever reached level 20, let alone thought about their power and abilities at that point in your character's career.  Which, I guess is where we have our failure to see.

In the OSR, you start at first level and struggle to gain expo, gold, fame, levels, magic, etc and each level is a highpoint.

In the later editions, you know what you plan to be when you reach level 20, and spend your character's career walking the predestined path to get there.  In some ways, you're starting at level 20 and looking back the whole time, or at least that's how I see it.

In the OSR, your character is always looking forward.

Strange that the new looks back, and the old looks forward.

Free - Kobold Quarterly Issue #14 (Pathfinder / 4E)

Although I have labeled Kobold Quarterly as a Pathfinder & 4E product / magazine, it really is much more.  KQ is probably the premier, in print RPG magazine available these days.  It covers the whole industry, and even if it's articles are for Pathfinder or D&D 4E, most have stuff that I can steal borrow as an OSR enthusiast.

For the price of free, you really can't afford to pass up on this issue.

Go here for the link to order the PDF.

Use this code: KoboldWelcome

Offer is good thru Feb 14, 2012 


Picking Apart the 5E Class Seminar - Part II - Casters & Magic

Greg: I like planning my feat chain over 20 levels. So let's talk about spell casters and the spell casting mechanics. What are your opinions on how that should be? Current playtest has a Vancian system of magic. Thoughts on using that system?

Monte: It's my firm belief that Vancian magic, for the core classes, is D&D. There are other options for other classes, but for Wizard, Cleric (core), Vancian is the way to go. There's something to be said for picking spells that match what you think is coming. Rewarding. I know it's a bit controversial, but I think Vancian magic is a core element of D&D. Maybe it's not the only option for magic, but it's definitely an iconic and flavorful one that I would like to retain. It's also an interesting way to handle game balance. For example wizards have magical feats that are basically at will abilities. Balancing them with vancian magic which are essentially daily abilities is an interesting way to go, especially when comparing to the fighter and rogue who have more of an at-will style play. It offers a very different playstyle than those other classes, but those different play styles are something we want to embrace. (Vancian Magic for the win.  Yeah, I know, you either love it or hate it, there is little middle ground.  Although combining Vancian Magic with At Will Powers might be a way to bring that gap.  I’m interested in seeing how this works out.)

Greg: Those at-will type of attacks are things that have come to D&D with 4th. How are you guys integrating that in the next iteration?

Bruce: As Monte mentioned, you have those feats that give you at-will style attacks, and some spell or class options will give you at will kind of attacks. (As I mentioned above, this should prove to be interesting)

Rob: And there's nothing stopping us from looking at all those green attacks from 4th and seeing how those fit into this new iteration. Some for combat, some for not combat. The spell feats fit for that and other class options or feats could offer similar things.  (So 4E powers are going to be 5E feats, or some such.  I had no idea 4E had powers that were used in non-combat situations ;)

Bruce: I feel we're brining Vancian magic back to the place it began, keeping the story intact and making it important to the story of the world. (I have no idea what Bruce means by Vancian Magic “keeping the story intact”.)

Greg: How about the 15 minute workday problem?

Bruce: Wizards have magical feats (at-will, always available). Hold on to higher spells until needed.  (At will powers for Wizzies means they won’t need to revert to slings, which is a good thing)

Rob: We could bring back a whole raft of at-wills from 4e, and make those type of things Wizard feats. There are also magical feats that are non-combat oriented. Different frequency rates, as well (encounter).  (I can deal with At Will Powers coupled with Vancian Magic, but Encounter Powers really don’t make sense in the classic D&D framework)

Bruce: 4e took Vancian magic and gave it to all classes. We're bringing it back to the part of D&D where it belongs. Fighters have their version of abilities and options as well, but it will have a different feel than the vancian magic for arcane stuff.  (I never saw 4E as having Vancian Magic.  How can Monte call Vancian Magic controversial above if it’s been in every edition of D&D - unless it hasn’t.  Make up your minds people!)

Greg: How is the idea of rituals progressing in the next iteration of D&D?

Rob: Monte started running with the ball and wanted to make rituals there for the really big spells that are super awesome, but might take a bit longer to cast. I ran with that and really wanted to make them all very interesting and complex, and really invest the player/character in what they're doing. We could bring back a lot of the big, neat spells from previous editions, and rituals can be the spells that do that.  (Or they could bring back a lot of the big, neat spells from previous editions without turning them into rituals)

Monte: Magic is taking a broader turn than just spells. In the past we got to the point where everything you encountered in the game had some kind of spell attached to it or that replicated the effect. I really want to go back to the idea that magic is mysterious and weird and not always entirely definable. I think it's good for the story of the game when the DM can use it to help to define and area or maybe a unique magic item. Things like rituals help us accomplish that - makes things more open ended and more interesting and also takes away some of the focus from the wizard and puts it on other things in the world.  (Alright, time to make Carcosa an Official D&D Supplement: we just need some sacrifices - a few TPKs should suffice ;)
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