Saturday, March 17, 2012

Reboot - Restarting the Campaign

Our DM got frustrated with the rules last Saturday and asked for someone else to take the reins.  To tell the truth, last week I wasn't even sure if there was going to be a game tonight.  I knew I wasn't going to be stepping up - I have a plan as to start running two campaigns myself in the next month or so, a third will kill me ;)

Luckily, one of the other players stepped up to take on the DM's Mantle.  I'm sticking with my Dwarven Cleric - no need to reroll or rebuild this way and I already have his personality sorted out, such as it is.

So, it's a new start, new DM, new campaign - same PC.

Should be fun :)

Real Dwarven Ale - Burdisson's Dwarven Ale

Have I mentioned in the past that my brother in law is a regional manager at one of the larger beer distributors in the NYC metro area?  Well, he is, and at times it has some pretty cool benefits.

Fantasy Brewmasters from Garrattsville, NY have released Burdisson's Dwarven Ale.  To my taste buds, it similar to a winter brew, although I am sure real beer fans can break that down more than I can.  It's a tasty brew, but I don't think I could have more than two in a sitting, as it feel kinda heavy.

If your state allows for beer to be shipped to your door, they'll arrange to have it shipped to you.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Picking Nits From Mike Mearl's Blog Post - Save or Die II - Die and Die Again!

Tell Me This Isn't a Save or Die Situation
Mike posted this on Tuesday as a follow up to his weekly column post on Save or Die - lets see what his further thoughts are, shall we?

Last week, I wrote about save or die mechanics in D&D and how I might approach them in my home campaign (let's call it what it is - a test to see if these mechanics will work in D&D 5e). There have been a lot of interesting discussions online about the mechanics and the general role of save or die in campaigns (yep, on a few blogs that I noticed- might be nice if you would link some of the discussions Mike).
Regarding 4E-Style Save or Die: The hit point threshold actually follows this model fairly closely. It simplifies things by focusing only on hit points rather than leaning exclusively on status effects (but it complicates things compared to regular / classic Save or Die effects). Status effects can come into play as needed rather than as a default. (this makes no sense to me.  does this mean we have a choice in when to use them?)
Using hit points also makes the steps between the beginning of a save or die sequence and its end less predictable.  Sometimes an effect might take a while to overwhelm you, while other times it takes a few attacks or failed saves for it to set in (sweet - I love extra stuff to have to track as a DM). It also means that healing a character is a good way to ward off a save or die effect that is wearing him or her down (so as long as I'm being healed I can stare the basilisk in the eyes?).
Save or Die and Scaling: The really nice thing about using hit points is that it allows monsters to scale much better. If a basilisk is a mid-level threat, it poses less of a threat to a high-level adventurer or a powerful monster (it would be less of a threat even without the "hit point power save or possibly if you are really unlock die".  As you level your chance to kill it quicker goes up, as well as your chance to save.  So I again fail to see the need to redefine Save or Die). In terms of world building, it helps explain why there is a hierarchy of monsters. (HUH?  WTF?  That needs an explanation). In terms of spells or other character abilities, it means that save or die can exist at lower levels without crowding out other options, even higher level ones. (okay, don't bother to explain)
Save or Die in Campaigns: Ideally, we can find an expression of stuff such as a medusa’s gaze or a ghoul’s touch that adds tension to the game without distorting things (I don't understand.  Heck, there's a lot I don't understand with Mike's approach). Things that are strictly save or die can be kept in a few monsters, allowing DMs to use them as they see fit (if you don't like save or die in your campaigns, don't use monsters or poisons or magic that has that effect). For character abilities, I have a hard time seeing a strict “roll well or die” ability in the game short of the very highest levels. One of the headaches of high-level D&D is that a caster can load up on save or die (or its cousin, save or suck), load up on feats to mess with saving throws, and take out creatures with a single action or a short sequence of actions (spells that cause damage aren't going to have the same effect at high levels?  am I missing something?). I much prefer abilities that require a build up or some sort of threshold, rather than leaning on a single die roll on the first round of combat to determine who wins.
Ideally, players don’t have access to “I win” buttons and DMs can use save or die as they see fit in their campaigns  (isn't it the same thing if the DM has access to "I Win buttons"?).
Why Hit Points? I have to admit that the idea of using hit points came from my 4th Edition campaign. In one adventure, the characters explored a temple of an evil earth deity. In the main temple, there was a set of statues with glowing, gem eyes that turned heretics to stone. The 4E mechanic of characters slowly turning to stone worked well, especially when combined with the earth elementals and skeletons that attacked the party.
I felt that in play, however, the threats posed by the trap and the monsters were too separate. The cleric was using actions to heal other characters and grant them more saves. A character could be in danger from one source but safe from the other. The encounter felt a little disjointed. My hope is that by focusing on hit points, that sort of encounter would feel more dangerous (I don't know 4e from shine-ola.  Healing grants more saves?  I thought Second Wind was healing in 4e.  I'm really fucking lost now)
In game terms, I imagine that the statues would either attack or force a saving throw from a character, inflicting damage as the character is slowly turned to stone (so they can attack OR force a save for damage?  how does that work?) If the damage reduces the character below a certain threshold, he or she has to make another save or be petrified (I'm really so not looking forward to having to track yet another thing during the game as a DM.  I thought 5e was going to simplify things).
In Summary: Save or die is obviously a topic that polarizes people (no shit!). It’s one of the many areas where we’re looking to players and DMs to give us feedback (no you don't.  you just want people to take stupid polls so they can be happy with the stroke job.  The polls are worthless). The material I wrote about earlier this week, and the ideas I put forward in later columns, are starting points. The game is a work in progress, and it won’t be complete without a thorough play test. (here's the thing though - we only get these little snippets that they throw out there for "discussion" and "polling".  What about the other 99% of the tweaks that we won't hear about until it's too late to make a change?)

Free OSR - Myth & Magic (AD&D 2e Clone - Kinda)

Myth & Magic hit the virtual bookshelves at RPGNow today.  It bills itself as inspired by AD&D 2E, with new bells and whistles bolted on.  I haven't given it much more than a cursory examination at this point, but it doesn't seem to hew too close to the original source to my glance.

Stat bonuses don't line up and bonus spells for high stats seems excessive (I'd have to break out my 2e rules to verify the bonus spell part).

It looks to be professionally put together and I would call the PDF "printer friendly".  It comes in 2 volumes:  a Player's Starter Guide and a Gamemaster's Starter Guide.  It only covers up to level 10, so I suspect there will be more to come later.

I'll try to give Myth & Magic a review over the next few days, but with Savage Worlds on my plate to read and my travels through the OD&D White Box, I might not get that chance for a while.  Still, the books are free, so if you have the inclination to read it, there's no risk involved ;)

From the blurb:

Myth & Magic is an update and expansion to the 2nd Edition of the World’s Most Popular Roleplaying Game. It maintains the tone and atmosphere for classic storytelling, yet cleans up and modernizes some of the rules with new and improved mechanics.  We here at NHG started our gaming careers in the 1989 rules. We have tremendous love for that edition and that love is evident in the quality of the Myth & Magic experience. For anyone who has played 2E and enjoyed the countless avenues a good story and some good friends can take in a campaign, you will love Myth & Magic. For anyone who missed the 2E experience, Myth & Magic is a must-play. The 2E experience is unique and Myth & Magic does a great job of preserving that experience while providing a fresh set of rules.

The Player's Starter Guide contains ten levels worth of gaming goodness for the cleric, fighter, thief and wizard. At 148 pages, it is a mere taste of what is to come.

Download it now and then hop over to newhavengames.com to share your experiences and gain access to exclusive member content.

Join the Campaign!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Original 7 - Dungeons & Dragons "White Box" - Killing Things and Taking Their Stuff

Book 2 of the 3 volume set of the D&D "White Box is titled Monsters & Treasure.  Within we will see what we can kill, and the kinds of loot we may find when we kill things.  Huzzah!

One thing I never realized until today, even though it has literally stared me in the face since I started reading the little 3 booklets, is the subheading under "Dungeons & Dragons" on each of the cover pages:
Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures
See, the first RPG didn't even know it was a role playing game.  It was a war-game, just played on a different scale than most.  Never doubt the war-game roots of RPGs, as they are deep and strong.

Anyhow, back to Book 2.

We are given our monsters as a list which is vaguely grouped by type.  The list takes up two pages, and goes from left to right with the following headers:

Monster Type   # Appearing   Armor Class  Move in Inches  Hit Die  % in Liar  Type or Amount of

Notice the "% in Liar".  That's not a typo.  Or rather, it is a typo, but from the original source.  This % in Lair crap carried over to AD&D.  I didn't see it's use then, I don't see it now.  Ah well.

Monster descriptions are generally two to three sentences long, although some (like dragons) are major exceptions.  More than a handful refer the reader to Chainmail for further info.      

I like the description of the Gray Ooze, it part because it makes little sense:
A seeping horror which closely resembles wet stone and is thus difficult to detect. (if it is in an area with wet stone.  put it on a wooden floor and it becomes obvious) It will not be spread by non-harmful weaponry (what the hell does this mean?  is it spread like butter otherwise?  what the f' is "non-harmful weaponry"?), but it is subject only to lightning bolts or cuts and chops by weaponry, for it is impervious to cold or fire.  It does not harm wood or stone, but it corrodes metal at the same rate that Black Pudding does (so those weapons you used to kill it?  gone...).  It does two dice damage to exposed flesh for every turn it is in contact with it.  This sucker kicks ass and takes name.  Evil, evil little beast.               
Treasure Types Table - these never made sense to me in any version of the game and I don't recall published adventures ever appearing to follow these tables.  I will admit to using the ones in AD&D back in my teen years, but than I was also putting mature dragons in 10' square rooms and allowing the party to fully engage.  Still, if I was going to pick my favorite treasure type, I'd choose "H".  Best chance of hitting Megamillions (alright, 10's of thousands of GPs)

(i'll pick up with the magic treasures in the next part)

Damn You Happy Jack's Podcast! I am a Step Closer to Being Savaged!

The f'ers over at the Happy Jack's podcast are big Savage Worlds fans.  Really big.  They do play other games (Traveller, D&D 4e and such) but their favorite game system is Savage Worlds.

I've been pretty steadfast in my "I will not be running a Savage Worlds campaign" mantra, but the boys have been wearing me down.  Listening to last falls podcast with Shane Hensley (Savage Worlds author) certainly didn't help.  I found myself ordering a dead tree copy of the Savage Worlds Deluxe ruleset from Amazon, despite the fact that I already have a PDF copy.

I know the rules are good and fairly flexible.  I know there are a bunch of different genre sourcebooks for it.  Heck, I have some of the classic ones (I like the concept of EverNight, but it's such a damn rail road I don't think I could stomach running it).

Ah well, I can always leave the book handy for bathroom reading ;)

The Core 4 Classes - Less 1

We're starting up a new campaign this weekend using just the 4 core classes, and it got me thinking that in the OD&D Boxed set there were just 3 core classes - thieves didn't exist yet.

What roles did thieves fill that wasn't filled prior to their introduction?

Trap Finding? A 10' pole and some cautious players will do much better than a 1st level thief will in finding traps.

Trap Disabling? Same idea. Smart players will find ways to disable or harmlessly set off traps.

Open locks? Isn't that what a hammer is for? As for locked doors, bring your crow bar.

Climb Walls? How many walls are being climbed in dungeons anyway?

Hear Noise? Make sure you have an elf in the party and you are covered.

Pick Pockets? More trouble than it's worth.

Backstab? Almost impossible to set up in the older systems.

I've grown accustomed to thieves in the party, but it's the once core class who's absence probably won't be missed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

D&D Next - This One Goes To...

In Spinal Tap, the amp in question went to eleven.  From what little we've seen discussed about D&D Next, the new edition doesn't look to be amping up the character power like 4e did, but instead it seems to be ratcheting it back.

They want the basic monsters to be effective over a larger swath of levels.  Not by, apparently, giving us mooks, elites, bosses and such, but by actually having the base monster be an effective threat over multiple levels.

The only way you can accomplish this is by doing away with, or greatly slowing down, the THAC0 (to-hit) increases that the classes get.  Gone are the days of +1 per level to all the classes like you see in 4e.  I suspect that the +1  per level that fighters have gotten since AD&D is gone too.

The neutering of Save or Die mechanics.

The depowering of "Turn Undead".

The idea of set skill targets for skill challenges.  If the PC has a skill score that meets or beats the skill target, it's an automatic success.  No roll needed.  (this isn't empowering, it is disempowering - because the moment the skill target is out of reach, your chance of success is nearly nil).

The thing is, if they can keep characters leveling slower, or leveling at a somewhat normal speed with a slower increase to their actual power levels, no longer will modules be written for levels 1 - 3 but 1-6 or 1-8.  It's going to be a wide band, but I suspect those bands will have cut off points where the power level "jumps" to the next tier.

It almost seems as if someone on the design team spent some time reading up on E6, the game inside D&D.  They want to keep the game at it's initial sweet spot, then they will jump it to the next tier and keep it at that sweet spot, and so on.  Yes, I'm talking outa my ass... I know that.  That being said, I strongly suspect I am right on this.

Bring Out Your (Un)Dead!

Mike Mearls is looking at giving the Turn Undead ability of clerics a major reworking in D&D Next. I find myself still asking the question "Why"? in many forms...

Why make a fairly simple and easy to resolve power more complicated?

Why make a historically much maligned class even less desirable to play?

Why add an effect to each undead monster description that applies to an effect generated by only one class?

Why do we need two types of each undead monster ("natural" and "summoned")?

Why fix what isn't broken?

Why is Mike trying to make a Dawn of the Undead Dragons RPG? Why not use the acronym DUD? ;)

Why is it that designers that claim to understand Old School D&D are doing their damnedest to remove Old School D&D from D&D Next?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Picking Nits From Mike Mearl's Latest Column - Turning & Churning

you can see the original article here

Clerics have been able to turn undead since the earliest days of the game. (which was useful, especially when Clerics couldn't cast spells at 1st level) Of course, that doesn't mean I like the turn undead mechanics. I have to admit that I am horribly biased. I love undead monsters. I have more painted undead metal minis than any other type of critter. (That's because undead are some of the easiest miniatures to paint ;) Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite all-time movies. There's something compelling about a creepy, ancient crypt, but nothing kills that sense of dread and fear for me like a cleric flicking his or her holy symbol at the endless, devouring hordes of the living dead and turning them into piles of ash or, even worse in my eyes, the equivalent of whimpering puppies. (but this is one area (offensively) where Clerics always had the chance to shine...) Dragons and orcs get to keep their dignity in defeat. Why must my carefully painted undead (see, like I said - easier to pain than the living) cower in terror at the sight of a holy symbol?

As I'm starting up my D&D campaign (as I described last week), I've decided to introduce a new take on turn undead. I've created it to fill what I see as the role the ability plays in the world of D&D. Here are the key beats I want to hit:
  • I like the literal idea of turning, as in turning away the undead from the cleric rather than blasting them with holy energy. (they only get blasted when the cleric is much more powerful than the undead - in which case, they probably weren't much of a threat in the first place)
  • When undead show up, the cleric's first impulse should be to at least consider turning them. On the other side of the screen, the DM shouldn't feel that turning makes undead-themed adventures a chore to create. (it's no more a chore than any other type of adventure)
  • The mechanic must be both simple to use and something that makes undead-heavy adventures more interesting with a cleric, rather than simply easier (again, if the cleric and the undead are equal, the cleric will only succeed half the time or so and even then it's just to flee- I don't see the issue here).
  • Turn undead is its own thing. It's not a specific use of a channel energy type ability, which goes away under my rules (that's fine.  all that shit got introduced in 3e and 4e and aint my bag anyway).
In my mind, the challenge with turning undead is that it has morphed over time from a tool to ward off skeletons and zombies to a sort of fireball tuned specifically for the undead. (the undead get blasted when the result is automatic in 1e, which means the cleric greatly outleveles the undead in question.  where is the problem?) That progression makes a lot of sense. It's fun to blast monsters! On the other hand, I think having turn undead work like a fireball makes turning a little too much like a spell (maybe the fireballing undead issue is a 3e or 4e problem...). In my mind, turn undead should either become a spell or become something unique. I've opted for the latter in my home game. Here's what I have:

When a cleric attempts to turn the undead, he or she makes a Charisma check (presumably with a bonus based on cleric level—maybe +1 per 2 levels?). All the undead within a 30-foot cone in front of the cleric are subject to the turn attempt. Each undead creature has a turn DC embedded in its description. If the cleric succeeds against a creature, the creature suffers the effects described alongside its turn DC. If the check fails, the cleric's attempts to turn that specific creature automatically fail for the next 24 hours.  (so, I  guess going back to the old turning charts is outa the question?  sorry, just asking)

This approach places the effects related to a turn attempt within the individual creature's description, which allows DMs and designers to determine what happens when you turn a specific type of undead monster. Here are some examples that I've created:

Skeletons and Zombies: They can do nothing but move away from the cleric, and they stop moving when they can't see the cleric anymore. If attacked, the turn effect immediately ends.  (so, level 10 cleric, level 1 skelli - Get running bag o' bones, cause I can't turns you to dust no more!)

Ghouls: Ghouls move at least 20 feet away from the cleric and they approach no closer. They can take all other actions (including ranged attacks if they have them) as normal.  (i'm detecting the neutering of the cleric.  damn, I could never get anyone to play a cleric in my AD&D campaigns and I see less of a reason here)

Ghosts: Ghosts phase out of existence for 5 minutes. If they are possessing a creature, that effect ends. (so, turning doesn't do anything more than putting the problem off until later)

Keep in mind that these are rough and serve more to show that each undead creature has its own DC and special effect when turned. I haven't considered durations yet, and I haven't decided whether the cleric has to keep spending effort to ward away the undead (excellent idea- make the cleric really useless).
I like this approach for a few reasons:
  • We can create effects that are useful but that don't give an automatic victory to the cleric. In most cases, turning is a good tool for evading or escaping the undead. (again, by removing one of the few ways a cleric can shine while not playing a healbot role, you are giving less reasons to play a cleric)
  • The cleric player needs to learn only one simple mechanic (are players really so dumb they can't handle a slightly more complicate and fulfilling game mechanic?). The DM has the effects of turning embedded in a stat block.
The first point is really big for me. As I mentioned earlier, I love using undead in my adventures. I think the first point resolves the tension between making turning useful and preventing turning from becoming overpowered. Ideally, clerics see turning undead as a way to gain an advantage over the undead—a tool used to help achieve success rather than an "I win" button (it was only an "i win" button when the clerics greatly out powered the undead in the first place.  mike, how is it that you just don't get that simple fact?)

What about evil clerics? Traditionally, turning has allowed them to seize control of the undead. I thought about that a bit, and my thoughts veered to the spell animate dead. Rather than allow evil clerics to control vampires and other intelligent undead, why not build a rule into the spell or ritual that sets a DC for others who attempt to control such undead? That same DC could also allow good or neutral clerics to undo the spell and dust the undead (wait, I thought clerics couldn't "dust" the undead?). With this rule, we keep the idea of destroying undead but limit it to effects created by spells or rituals. This rule also marks a big difference between undead created by a caster and those that have other origins. (oh lord.  yeah, that certainly simplifies shit.  let's use 2 methods.  let's see:  these skeletons run away - they're "natural undead".  These other skeletons go up in flames - there must be an evil necromancer nearby.  mike, you are over thinking this shit)

When expanding on the concept of building a rule for controlling undead into a spell or ritual, I like the idea of including similar mechanics in spells or rituals that allow casters to summon and bind undead (sweet, so evil PCs are definitely in the game). For example, a creature that you can summon or bind might have both a DC and the benefits for binding that creature included in its description (now we are getting into dangerous territory mike.  i thought WotC like keeping things safe in the 4e era). I always liked the references to true names, compelling demonic service, and so forth in older editions. In some ways, by giving concrete benefits for binding a vrock, you might tempt more PC casters into trying it (assuming alignment doesn't have much bearing on the game, sure.  good and neutral PCs binding devils and demons?  Has Carcosa embedded itself in D&D Next?). Even better, those benefits don't have to be only that "the monster fights for you" but instead can be more flavorful and subtle. A vrock can grant you the ability to fly, and a devil might give you better stats, a magic item, or magical abilities as part of a bargain. This topic goes beyond turning undead, but it's something I'll think about more as I plan my campaign.

Mike is highlighting change for the sake of change, and calls it a simplification which he immediately follows by a huge complicate (2 types of undead - natural and summoned).

Recipe for metagaming and a neutering of clerics.  But that's okay, because Mike is fixing a problem that doesn't really exist in the earlier editions of the game.


How Dungeons & Dragons Online Ruined Me For 3.5E

I was thinking that nearly all of my experience with 3.5e was via DDO. Not good.

Spell Points, not Spell Slots - how can a game call itself D&D and not have Vancian Magic (yeah, yeah -4e. whatever)?

Bardic Superman - use all weapons, heal, color spray and fascinate. I like bards, but this was too optimized.

Rogue 1 plus any other class - were Rogues ever really needed in DDO?

Repetition - how many times can you complete the same adventure? To infinity and beyond - almost.

Yeah, I know it's gone free to play. I'm actually surprised that it survived the 4e age. I can't imagine it will still be kicking when D&D Next arrives.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Original 7 - Dungeons & Dragons "White Box" - And So It Begins

Before I actually started the process of delving neck deep into the Original 7 RPGs, I thought about the scholarly approach I was going to take.  Let me start right now by saying "that shit ain't happening!"  Or, it may, but only as circumstances permit.  I find myself enjoying my trip far too much to make this a purely scholarly project.

In any case, I've been working my way through Dungeons & Dragons Volume 1 - Men and Magic, and finding the nuggets that, to my eyes, are the most insightful.
Number of Players:  At least one referee and from four to fifty players can be handled in any single campaign, but the referee to player ratio should be about 1:20 or thereabouts.  (holy shit!  50 players?!?  1 ref to every 20 players ?!?  I have trouble running a game with more than 5 sitting at my table these days)
Under Recommended Equipment - Imagination and 1 Patient Referee ;)

Elves:  They may use magic armor and still act as Magic-Users.  (as elves swapped out their classes, choosing between being fighters and magic-users in between adventures, the magic armor perk is pretty powerful)
Other Character Types:  There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided that they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e., a player wishing to be a Dragon would have to begging as let us say, a "young" one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee.  (hmmm... by the time AD&D was introduced, this little gem was forgotten.)
Strength gives no bonus to hit or damage.

6 levels of Magic-User spells and 5 levels of Cleric spells take up 11 1/2 pages.  About one spell level per page.  Digest sized.  How come we can't write stuff as concisely these days?

Apocalypse World - It DOES Play Better Than It Is Written

Last night I played in a session of Apocalypse World GM'ed by Charles Jaimet (who's working on an excellent gaming interface for G+ Hangout). It was certainly a wee bit intimidating to be in a group containing Greg Christopher(Chubby Funster), Tavis Allison (ACKS) and Peter Adkison (GenCon, former owner of WotC). I just tried to hold my own ;)

It was one of the best roleplaying experiences I can recall being a part of. Obviously the group of players involved was a major part of that, but I must admit, the system was too.

Apocalypse World pretty much forces your to role-play, but in such a natural manner you hardly even realize it.

I stand behind my earlier comments about the presentation and writing of AW - it is so hard to work your way through the rules that I had to put them down multiple through sheer frustration. Someone needs to do a rewrite to make it user friendly. Still, as many told me earlier, it plays so much better than it reads. I stand partially corrected ;)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

An Early Spring, Complete With Hiccups

I'm not even sure if winter ever fully settled in this year.  Very little snow, no ice - heck, I never even broke out my winter jacket.  I survived with my fall fleece (although I doubled up on the fleece a handful of days).

Now it's March 11th and my front yard is in full bloom.  This is NYC, mind you, so I'm just happy I have a front yard that can grow flowers ;)

Spring often brings new and / or fresh starts, which I might be looking for.  Looks like the Saturday Night game is wrapping up, not due to any sort of player issues but more to the tune of "system issues".  It's been a great group to play with and the party truly gelled but no one is all that satisfied with the system.  We'll see what happens next.

Hey, I wanted to start up a campaign or two in any case.  I may just have to accelerate the process ;)

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