Saturday, March 24, 2012

Savage Thoughts, Infinite Worlds

The more I look at Savage Worlds, the more I like it.  SW and Open D6 may become my main alternate rulesets for my second slot of gaming.

Why Open D6?  I had some experience with it back in the days of the old West End Games, ran some Star Wars D6 and had a few of the other D6 (Masterwork) powered games.  The fact that it is free these days means that my players should have no excuse in not having a copy of the rules ;)

Why Savage Worlds?  It's a highly supported system.  It has what appears to be an infinite number of settings, either official or fan supported.  There is a lot of strong third party material for the system.

Besides that, the Savage Worlds Test Drive rules are an excellent introduction to the system.  A player could probably get away with never going beyond such (so long as the GM was willing to help with character gen or provide pregens).

I really like the idea of short arcs to keep things fresh, and universal systems allow you to do so.  I like the idea of a short arc using Solomon Kane, as the fiction is pretty much all short stories (short "arcs" if you will).  I'm considering checking into the Mars setting (what with John Carter getting some push theses days) as well as Deadlands (a setting I haven't really checked out since it's old days when it was it's own system).

Now, quick questions to all the Savage Worlds junkies:

Should I be looking to pick up SW Horror?  I see it is recommended / required for Deadlands, and would probably be useful for Solomon Kane.

For gaming via G+ Hangout - what's the alternative for using a deck of cards for initiative?  Since everyone can't share the same deck, this would be an issue.  Of course, if I used Fantasy Grounds, that's built in, but then not everyone has a large enough computer screen to squeeze in both a VTT and the video from the Hangout.

Oh, and anyone have thoughts on Reality Blur's Old School Fantasy for Savage Worlds?

Another Oh, I found a Savage Worlds Primer - Saweet!

How Many Savage Worlds Are There?

I'm referring to the number of settings and plot point adventures available for Savage Worlds.  From what I can see it is right up there with the number available for D&D / D20 / OGL, which I find just a bit overwhelming, especially coming to the party late in my case.

Any suggestions on the best ones?

I'm looking for something that will work well in short arcs (2 to 4 sessions) that I plan to run via Google+ Hangouts, while mixing some other RPG systems into the mix too.

I'm figuring short arcs will allow for changing pace and work for those that can commit to short arcs but not a longer campaign.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Catching Up On "The Rule of Three": re: D&D 5e (3/12/12)

I've been neglectful in failing to keep up with the Rule of Three questions and answers series that Rodney Thompson has been doing on a weekly basis for WotC.  Why have I neglected it?  Because it was bouncing between 5e and 4e, and I have little to no interest in 4e (it's the edition that passed me by).  So when I started seeing a bunch of 4e stuff, I kinda forgot about the recurring feature.  It looks like I have some catching up to do ;)

Without further interruption, here's the 3/12/12 article, with my insightful and occasionally annoying comments.  You can peek at the original article here.

What are your thoughts on critical failures and things like injury charts and tables? Is this something that you could see living in the core of D&D Next or a module?

Those are two great examples of things that probably wouldn't be core assumptions, but could live as modules, albeit in a core book (I thought the modules were going to be published separate from the core.  and is it just me that has an issue with the term "modules" referring to optional rules after TSR and WotC have been using it to describe adventures for years?). Neither of those two have been consistent in their presence across the breadth of D&D (I'd argue they never really where there, except as optional and / or house rules), but while I wouldn't consider their presence to be core to the assumptions of the D&D game, they're prevalent enough in auxiliary materials throughout the years that they seem like good candidates for things that DMs should have available to add into their games (my lord, but this sentence is so full of fluff.  "They were never core, but enough people house ruled it in we figured we'd give you the option to play with out house rules").

 2  What have you guys learned about reaction and interrupt actions in 4E, and how do you think it will affect things for D&D Next?

Off-turn actions of all kinds can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be exciting to be able to break the turn order and step in when you normally couldn't, giving the player a lot more control over the situation. On the other hand, off-turn actions are one of the primary sources of game play slowdown—not simply in their resolution, but in the player's need to keep them in his or her mind all the time (this would certainly effect their "60 Minute D&D Session"in a negative fashion). We've all seen the situations where the DM is well into resolving an attack when one player says, "Oh wait! I have a power that lets me stop that."(I've never seen that, but I don't play 4e and barely played 3e) That's not so bad when a single player has a single off-turn action, but when they proliferate across multiple characters (with some characters stocking up on off-turn actions), you can see how something that is good in moderation can bring the game grinding to a crawl. (is this why 4e combat takes so long?)

I think one of the good things that off-turn actions do is give a sense of that the PC has active defenses; I don't just sit and take the punishment that the DM dishes out, I have a chance to protect myself thanks to the character building choices I made. This is one of the methods by which saving throws as presented in editions prior to 4th Edition actually have a positive impact on the players' game play experience. (I don't see how a Saving Throw is part of a character's "building choices", as it was always built on a set table based on class)

Going forward, I think we'll want to address the challenges associated with off-turn actions in a couple of different ways. First, I think we'll want to be more cautious with how many we inject into the game. ("Because we see how slow encounters have played out in 4e, and we don't want a repeat in 5e") In order to retain the benefits of the "active defense" side of off-turn actions, we can look to saving throws as a method of providing that feeling, and then build mechanics that ride on top of the saving throw if the player chooses them (I'm interested in seeing how this actually develop, as it makes no sense to me as stated, but maybe it's because Rodney "knows" but can't explain it yet)

 3  With 4E we saw some successful experiments with a 0 level that helps you create your character and inform you on the character's past and motivations. Is that something you'd like to see continued into the next iteration - a level 0 for bringing new people into the game and fleshing out a character?

While I don't think level 0 play will be an assumed part of the core game (0 level play is always a bit weird, as the character suddenly "levels" into a class), I think it's perfectly viable as an optional rules module. However, I'd also like to point out that themes (I don't do 4e.  are themes like kits from 2e?) do a lot for creating the kinds of character history that you're talking about. Themes, as presented in 4E, work best when they say something about your character's role in the world. Themes are something we want to be a core part of character creation in the next iteration of the game, chosen right alongside class and race, that adds a layer of depth to the character that we've seen great success with in 4E.

Additionally, we're looking at having the classes gradually layer in more capabilities over the first two or three levels, rather than providing a large number of class features at level 1, so that players new to the class have a short period of time to learn the basics of their class through play (but that can also result in 1st level characters that feel very "vanilla"). Experienced players could simply start at 3rd level if they want to leap right into a more advanced starting experience. (I'm sorry, but it's never right to "force" players to jump levels if they want the full game experience.  Why not add the slower ability advancement as one of their optional "modules", which they seem willing to do with critical failures and injury charts)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Looking At the "Latest Rule-of-Three" Re: D&D 5E

 1  Another awesome 4E innovation—minions (I most certainly wouldn't refer to "minions" as an awesome 4e innovation). How are these one hit wonders influencing monster design for the next iteration of D&D?
One of the things we're exploring in the game is what we refer to as a bounded accuracy system. Effectively, we're looking into whether or not we can strip out the assumption of accuracy and defense scaling by level, and let progression rest largely within the scaling damage, hit points, and capabilities of both characters and monsters. (Basically, so long as THACO isn't increasing, you don't need the magical christmas tree of wondrous items to balance it out)

When you have this, any monster whose hit points are less than the damage you deal is, effectively, a minion (yeah, I guess so.  So, for all intents and purposes, kobolds have been minions from the start of the game). Thus, we might not need a specific minion rule, because we would simply design monsters with hit points that rest below average damage for certain levels and let that take care of it (in other words, we do want monsters in the game that do what minions do for us). (what is it exactly that minions do do? or is that doodoo?  ) At the same time, since as the player characters gain levels their damage numbers are going up, monsters that previously were not "minions" become "minions" by virtue of player damage outstripping their hit points (okay, but not to all characters in the group at the same time, as i assume fighters will do more combat damage that clerics... or is that a bad assumption?). Since AC and attack bonuses aren't automatically scaling up, the orc that you fight at 1st level that took three hits to kill may only take 1 hit to kill at 6th level, making it a "minion" for heroes of that level.  (so he's just as hard to hit, but more likely to kill with one blow.  and where is this "3 hit shit" coming from?  weapon damage is still going to be variable, isn't it?)

 2  One of the earlier conversations touched on alignment. Will Alignment be in D&D Next? If so, will it be the classic nine alignments? And will it have a mechanical impact for characters? For monsters?
The classic nine alignments are planned to be the default alignment assumptions (woot!) (though personally I also have a soft spot for "Unaligned" as well). As for mechanical impact, I think that there's an assumption in the history, world, and cosmology ofDungeons & Dragons that there are tangible, elemental forces of good, evil, law, and chaos, etc. Some of D&D's best stories are built on it; see the war between Law and Chaos that led to the creation of the Rod of Seven Parts. Having mechanics that interact with a fundamental force of existence makes sense, much in the same way that having mechanics that interact with fire, lightning, etc. make sense. However, we want alignment to be a tool, not a straightjacket, so the execution of those mechanics should serve that goal, and really only apply when dealing with the powerful, elemental forces of alignments, not someone who just behaves a certain way (alright... I think this lost me.  alignment will have repercussions, but only if you stray really really bad?). Additionally, I believe we'll also want it to be easy for a DM to strip those mechanics out of his or her campaign, if the DM so chooses. (yeah, i may just want to treat it along the classic AD&D lines)

 3  How important is it to the team that different classes have different mechanics? What kind of ideas would you like to explore to give different classes a different feel?
The important thing about class mechanics is not simply that they be different, but that the mechanics of a class produce the best and most iconic experience of playing that class (folks throw around the word "iconic" way to often in games these days.  design fun classes, and they will be iconic on their own). It's OK to re-use mechanics between classes; for example, our current vision for both the fighter and the rogue includes access to a system of combat maneuvers. Clerics and paladins both should have access to divine spells. That's something the classes need to have because they are different; it's not a choice made simply so that they would be different. (the iconic part is what I assume is being referred to here)
As for how to give different classes different feels, that's all going to come down to how the systems work. For example, if you substitute maneuvers in for individual attacks, the fighter class plays more like a mix-and-match system combining maneuvers and multiple attacks; on my turn, I charge the orc, then use my next attack to disarm him, and my final attack to push him back away from the weapon he dropped (you do realize that combat like this isn't going to fit into the "60 minutes session" mike is working on, right?). Spells, on the other hand, are likely to be focused more on big effects, so that the cleric is more likely to cast a single flame strike spell that consumes much of what she does for that round.

Wow.  I'm actually intrigued by the Bounded Accuracy System, which has been hinted at before, but this is the first time I've seen it named.

What Do Y'all Think About a Rotating Game Nite?

I know I want to run Adventurer Conqueror King System as my main game, but I've also been thinking about running a secondary game.

I've also been accused more than once of having Gamer's ADD or something similar, as I express interest in many different systems.  What can I say?  I like RPGs.  Heh.

So, what I was thinking was I'd have a steady game (ACKS) and run a second game nite of one shots or short story arcs, using other systems.

Probably looking at Savage Worlds, QUERP, Ancient Odysseys, Tunnels & Trolls and the like for the side games.  For the most part, games that are easy to explain, yet aren't D&D or one of it's numerous clones.

ACKS would be a steady group, the side games would allow people to drop in and out.

G+ Hangout with possibly a VTT on the side.  All I really need is a whiteboard.

Any thoughts?  Suggestions?  Desire to make fun of my Gamer's ADD? ;)

The Results Are In - Average RPG Session Among Respondents Just Over 4 Hours

My totally unscientific poll was conducted over G+ and my blog, and I received responses via the G+ thread, the blog post comments section and via email.

48 Different game sessions / campaigns were indicated, with either average length of game session indicated or a range of times. If someone stated that included dinner / meal break, I knocked off 30 minutes unless they indicate otherwise. If someone offered a range, I used the average. If someone offered a huge range, but stated it was usually on the lower end, I added an hour to the low end and used that number.

The average comes out to 4.16 hours, or roughly 4hrs, 10 minutes per session.

I stand by this survey, as it was at least as scientific as anything WotC runs on their site (although I will admit they do get a larger sampling and neither survey is all that scientific).

It looks like 4hrs is still the length of the average RPG session. After bullshitting and snack gathering, I'd guess most gamers get in just about 3 1/2 hrs of gaming per session.

I don't think I have enough data to definitively say that online sessions are shorter or longer than face to face sessions (as not everyone indicated whether the sessions were in person or online). My gut tells me online sessions are shorter on average, but that will have to wait for another poll.

Thanks to everyone for their input :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

RPGs That Can Be Played in 90 Minutes (or Less)

I don't want to say "an hour" because lets be truthful, the first 15-30 minutes of just about every game session is the catching up and bullshitting part of the game.  RPGs are a social experience, and part of that experience is socializing and bonding.  Therefore, I'm going with 90 minutes, as I doubt most of us have access to disciplined game designers at our place of employment that we can game with over lunch time ;)

So, where does that leave us before Mike and Monte gift us with the new and improved D&D Edition, the edition to unite all editions, which can be played in 60 minutes and comes in more flavors than Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream?  The rules need to be simple and combat resolution needs to go quickly.  Nearly any game can be run in 90 minutes, but a few will actually allow you to accomplish stuff and progress the adventure.

 Surprisingly, we do have a few choices:

I'd suggest that one try the Original Dungeons &  Dragons White Box Edition, but that's going to set you back over $100+ on Ebay.  Instead, I'm going to point you to Swords & Wizardry White Box Edition.  It's a nice, cleaned up clone of OD&D, and best of all, it's free in PDF.  It's much easier to grok than the original ruleset from 1974, and you can even grab the rules in MS Word Format - so you can insert your own house rules and pass them off to your players.

Tunnels & Trolls is another fine choice.  Character generation is a breeze and combat is simple.  Stick with T&T 5.5e or earlier, as the "monster death spiral" is more pronounced.  What this means is that as monsters take damage, they do less damage.  As damage is given to the losing side when dice pools are compared, the "monster death spiral" can greatly speed up combats, especially when the final resolution is obvious.  Monsters are simplified as an Monster Rating (MR) which quickly translates into Combat Dice and Combat Adds.  Once you understand the the system it is easy as pie and all you need are a bunch of d6's.  You can check out the T&T Quickstart Rules for free here.

Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! is a more recent title from Precis Intermedia.  It has an Old School feel with some New School mechanics.  They system is fairly simple, using d6's.  You get the the standard fantasy races, three character classes (warrior, wizard and rogue), a basic skill system, a simple resolution system and simplified tactical (non-tactical) map.  It's a sweet system, which can be played solo (just like T&T) but I think works much better in group play.  The PDF is $6.95 (and includes a version ready to be printed out in double sided digest size).

Warrior, Rogue & Mage is a system that I really wish I have had a chance to play.  It's a streamlined system that looks to my gaming eyes as something that could be played in an hour and a half or two, and yet still get the feeling of having played a longer session.  Did I mention that all you need are d6's?  Seems to be a trend ;)  Resolute, Adventurer & Genius is the pulp version of the rules.  Did I mention that both of these rule sets are free?


Additional Suggestions

Neoclassical Geek Revival

Old School Hack



Weird West

Basic Fantasy RPG

How Long Are Your RPG Sessions?

After yesterday's fairly vocal discussion regarding Mike Mearl's One Hour Game Session article, I realized that the default 4 hour session may no longer be the default these days.

So, how long are your gaming sessions and what game system do you use?

(I'll be posting later my thoughts on some game systems that I feel are suited for shorter game sessions)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Original 7 - Dungeons & Dragons "White Box" - Going Deep in the Underworld

Well, enough about the next incarnation of D&D.  Let's continue our look back at the Original Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

So, what does Volume 3: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures give us?

Well, we get a cross section of a dungeon.  Six levels (and side levels) and connections (Stairs, chutes and the like).  I never mapped out a cross section of any of the dungeons I've run.  Most didn't go beyond three levels (if that). Still, and interesting view of how it could be done.

The sample dungeon level is more corridors than rooms.  Heck, if the PCs can't find the first secret door, it's going to be a very small dungeon for them.  That being said, it is a well explained dungeon level.  It is also an example of "do as we say, not as we do":
5.  The combinations here are really vicious, and unless you are out to get your players it is not suggested for actual use.  Passage south "D" is a slanting corridor which will take them at least one level deeper, and if the slope is gentle, even dwarves won't recognize it.  Room "E" is a transporter, two ways, to just about anywhere the referee likes, including the center of the earth or the moon.  The passage south containing "F" is a one-way transporter, and the poor dupes will never realize it unless a very large party (over 50' in length) is entering it.  (This is sure-fire fits for the map makers among the participants.)
Do you mind if I say "Holy Shit!  Ouch!"  Thank the Gods they tell you NOT to use it ;)

Then three's this little tidbit about Tricks and Traps:
The fear of "death", its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of this game.  It therefore behooves the campaign referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistent with a reasonable chance for survival (remembering that the monster population already threatens this survival).  For example, there is no question that a player's character could easily be killed by falling into a pit thirty feet deep or into a shallow pit filled with poisoned spikes, and this is quite undesirable in most instances.
Risk is good.  Killer DM not so much fun.  Good advice, and something that most people don't seem to associate with Old SChool D&D.

When building a dungeon, place the main encounters, then randomly distribute monsters and treasure to the as yet unkeyed rooms.  1 in 3 rooms will have monsters (and half the monster rooms will have some sort of treasure) and 1 in 6 unoccupied rooms will have some sort of treasure.  Which I guess means half of all rooms half nothing at all.

It takes 10 minutes to move 2 moves or 120' for a fully armored character, twice that rate if running and not mapping.  So, you can run at a rate of 24' a minute if you pass on the mapping, or 12 ' a minute if you are mapping.  Did anyone ever stop and figure out how slow 24' a minute is when they wrote this game.  Assuming you are running with torches and lanterns, and making lots of noise with the jingling of armor, 24' a minute is the equivalent of taking a minute to cross a four lane crosswalk.  Or thirty seconds to cross a room.

Ah well, this book is going to take a couple of posts to progress through at 12' a minute ;)

My Thoughts on the One Hour RPG Session

Mike Mearls wrote about (and I critiqued) One Hour D&D Gaming Sessions yesterday. Actually, it was more like a 45 minute session of gaming, as character generation took up like 15 minutes (he's currently using his own houseruled version of Basic D&D (1981).

I want that to sink in for a moment. 45 minute session of gaming.

It takes me that long to get to a session of gaming near me ;)

What Mike is doing is gaming at work during the lunch hour. That's actually kinda cool, but than again, he works at a gaming company.

For the rest of us, you might be able to run sessions that short via Google+ Hangout, but otherwise it's just not practical for most groups.

What I'm apprehensive of is that Mike wants to design D&D Next with 1 hour sessions, or 1 hour building blocks, as it's core.

It all has to do with the math. The math behind the expo. The math being the Vancian magic. The math behind the party resources. The math...

Ideally, if you want to run a short session, you limit the party's choices and limit the number of encounters.

Still, the last / current edition of D&D, a single encounter takes an hour plus, and Mike claims he snuck 6 encounters plus roleplaying into 45 minutes. How the hell did he do that?

1 - He's using Basic D&D, which plays pretty fast, especially at low levels. Limited choices and limited resources will lead to faster gameplay than more complicated games. Question - How will Mike make that work in a game that plans on keeping 4e style combat as an option?

2 - I'm guessing railroad. He moved the party along a predesigned path in the adventure. Comment - I hate fucking railroads.

3 - Automatic success for skills. Monte talked about this leading up the the 5e announcement. If your skill in spot or disarm is high enough, you don't need to roll to succeed. Mike doesn't mention this one way or another in his write up, except for mentioning (undefined) houserules. Auto success will speed things up. Comment - Auto success also neuters the game and makes it bland. If there is no risk, the reward isn't very rewarding.

4 - The math. Mike has his expo spreadsheet and has it all worked out. Question - Is the One Hour math going to work the same over Four Hours? I don't think so.

5 - Disciplined Players. They see each other every day at work. Very little small talk. Question - What happens when you haven't talked to or seen the people in your gaming group for the last week or two? Everyone has to catch up on real life. RPGs are social games by nature. Unless your One Hour sessions are daily at a place very convenient for your group, you are going to lose time to the social aspect of gaming.

One Hour RPG Games have their place, but it's limited.

Mike sees One Hour D&D sessions as the core of D&D Next, while admitting some may want to play longer sessions.

I have news for you Mike - I'm not hopping on a train or in my car for 45 minutes each way to play for 45 minutes to an hour. I don't know of anyone who is. I don't know anyone that works with a group of gamers that can game daily during lunch.

Mike, you seem to forget that your gaming circumstances are not the norm.

But hey, it's your houserules. Enjoy them. Just don't expect many to buy them.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Picking Nits From Mike Mearls Latest Column - The One Hour D&D Game

"Can You Speed It Up?  We've Got To Wrap This Up in An Hour!"

Here's the link to the article without my comments ;)

This week, I'd like to talk about one of our design goals in general terms so that you can gain a sense of how we're approaching the next iteration of the game. (would it be wrong to refer to this as the "weekly stroke job"? ;)

Replaying the 1981 Basic Set recently has been eye opening (I'm sure). Even including the rules I've added to the game, character creation took somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes (That's about right up to and including AD&D 1e, so long as you know what you want to play ahead of time - and aren't using the UA method of "class directed character generation) In about 45 minutes of play, we created an entire party of adventurers (dwarf fighter, human magic-user, halfling thief), (halfing thief in Basic D&D?) kicked off an adventure with the characters just outside of a ruined keep, and explored six different rooms in a small dungeon. That exploration included two battles with goblins and hobgoblins. We played at a fairly relaxed pace (apparently there's no goofing around or catching up with the other players). There was plenty of roleplaying between the characters and frequent questions on the rules as the players navigated both basic D&D and my house rules.

In my mind, D&D must absolutely support this type of play (you will have to keep complexity at OD&D levels - no grid, no dozens of options). By no means should it be the only way to play D&D, but it must be an enjoyable way to play the game that doesn't come across as a crippled or incomplete experience (I don't see how a 45 minute game can compete with a 4hr game, but it should be interesting). You should be able to play a complete adventure in an hour. Not a single encounter, not a character creation session, but a complete scenario that would strike any reasonable player as an adventure with a beginning, middle, and end (I'm going to put this on the same level as "the one game to rule them all" - more marketing bullshit). That statement was one of the guiding principles that helped launch this entire process.

So what exactly should happen in an hour? One of the first proof of concept adventures I ran captures what I'm aiming at. In this adventure, the characters bought a treasure map from a halfling, traveled through a forest to the purported location of an orc lord's tomb, dodged a few traps in the tomb and solved a puzzle needed to gain access to the inner sanctum, battled skeletons that ambushed them, and then defeated the vengeful spirit of the orc lord and the animated statues that guarded his tomb. With the orc lord laid to his final rest, the characters claimed his magical axe and a small cache of gems (all this in 45 minutes, with a game that is going to support 4e style tactics?  wanna buy a bridge?)

This sort of adventure is exactly what I'd like players to experience in the next iteration of the game (did Mike nerf Turning the Undead for this adventure?) . In the adventure I ran, there was an NPC to interact with, a puzzle to solve, a couple of tense battles, and a reward at the end of the line (I'm not sure you can play a board game in 45 minutes). It shouldn't surprise you that the three pillars of D&D that we've talked about—combat, exploration, and interaction—all played a key role in the adventure. Best of all, the adventure created a consistent sense of tension. The fights were brief but sharp, with the characters pushed to the edge of defeat before rallying to victory (they were first level characters.  will fights be just as quick at 5th, at 10th?). The puzzle in the tomb and the interaction with the halfling each took about as much time as both of the fights.

Ideally, if we aim for a complete adventure in an hour, we hit a few important milestones:
  • The core rules are easy to use. They create a game that moves quickly but is still satisfying. (tastes great, less filling?)
  • Character complexity doesn't spill on to the table and slow the game down. (er, but if the complexity doesn't hit the table, it probably isn't really all that complex) It's OK for someone to have a complex character. It's irritating if that character takes significantly longer to resolve typical actions. (guess they aren't going to be using 4e style combat and challenge resolutions)
  • Monsters are easy to understand at the table. This relates to the statement about characters above. It's OK for some monsters to be complex, but that complexity should give the DM a flexible, challenging monster, not one that needs lots of time to resolve at the table. (I'll believe this when I see it)
  • The DM needs rules that can allow for adventures with as many fights as needed, from a single big brawl to a number of shorter fights. I'd like to see an adventure design system that gives me a suggested total XP value for monsters and traps to use so that I can push the characters to the limit of their abilities (formulating encounters is not the way to go.  it takes the soul out of the game.  but as the soul's been missing since 2e, I guess I shouldn't have expected different). I can then spend that XP for one battle, lots of little battles, or just sprinkle monsters in an environment as I choose. (sounds like the Bob Ross style of adventure design)
Of course, I don't expect everyone to give up how they've been playing D&D for years to focus on running one-hour adventures (why not?  Save or Die tweaked to death, Turning Undead nerfed, multi-edition feel at one table - yes, I think you expect one hour sessions to be the new norm). By focusing on this benchmark, however, we create a starting point that we can use to expand to longer sessions of play. It's much easier to create a game that supports a one-hour session, and then use that to build out to two-hour, four-hour, or day-long gaming (gaming is usually around 4 hours give or take, and has been since 1974.  So working off a 4 hours standard session would have been the norm).

Ideally, focusing on the adventure as the basic unit of DM design also helps us cover different campaign styles. A sandbox DM can stock a region as one or more adventures, using higher-level XP targets to map the peril inherent in an area (again with this XP target bullshit.  it seems less like a RPG and more like a spreadsheet). The forest next to town might be built with enough monsters and treasures to equal one or two 1st-level adventures, while the forbidding mountains to the south are stocked with the equivalent of a 10th-level adventure. By focusing on an adventure—or a play session, depending on how you approach things—we can build a system that is more flexible and better matches the different styles that DMs bring to the table. (but a 1 hour adventure and a 4 hour adventure aren't going to be stocked the same, or offer the same challenge - why do I hear the boys in marketing throwing more bullshit our way?  "Hey, lets aim to do 1 hour gaming sessions, because everyone knows time is short these days.  so with 1 hour sessions, we can get more people to play.  and if it takes them 14 1 hr sessions to level, so much the better, as they'll be coming back for more and more!"  Bleh!)

And So It Was Said: "Let There Be an ACKS Campaign"

and it was good.

Or, at least, I hope it will be good.

We collectively decided to pull the plug on the current Saturday Night game.  We tried to give it a shot as a reboot, but that wasn't satisfactory.  The same issues were there in the last session that were there in the previous one.  It wasn't the GM, it just "was".

So, looks like I'm up.  I'll be starting up an Adventurer Conqueror King System Campaign.  As I'd like to have a updated hard copy (last summer's Gen Con pre-release i'd have to compare to the latest PDF version) and that should be coming sometime around the end of the month (along with the pre-release of the Adventurer's Companion) I'm figuring about 3 weeks or so before I'm up and ready.  It's a bit sooner than I had planned, but as a natural procrastinator I'd never lock myself down to a date if I didn't do it now ;)

That should also give me enough time to get the next issue of Loviatar in hand along with the next installment of the Hex 000 series.

I'll let it be known if there is a call for players.  I already have 3 committed from the current group, and there may be more.  I'd like to go with a full party of 5 or 6, so we can survive the occasional "real life random events" knocking 1 or 2 out on any given week.

Google+ Hangout handles gaming pretty well.  I may want to have a whiteboard available for use, and I'm leaning towards Gametable at the moment.  It's cross platform and free.  From my experience, a whiteboard is more important than an imported map, chat client, dice roller - any of that stuff.

Well, the video and voice is even more important than the whiteboard actually.  Video and voice bring the game alive, and gives you a true tabletop experience.

In any case, I'll have a second game of some sorts up and running at some point after the first.

72 Degrees in NYC and It's Not Even Spring Yet...

Heck, I never went beyond wearing a fall fleece jacket this winter.

Spring has been here for like 2 weeks already, if not longer, and winter never really showed itself.

Ah well, it was a good excuse to leave work early today.  Maybe I'll sit on the front porch with my cat and get some RPG reading in ;)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

An Open Letter to Mike Mearl's Regarding "Save or Die" (and other crap)

Not the True Cover for D&D Next, But it Could Be

I have a real simple solution for you.

If you don't like Save or Die as it has existed for decades, don't use it in the games you run or use it sparingly.

Simple, right?

If you don't like level draining undead in the campaigns you run, don't use them.  Holy crap!  Novel concept.

You don't need to rework a system that works just because you are a game designer and you like to tinker.  Tinkering with rules invariably adds complications that aren't needed, to address problems that aren't really there.

Before you work on shit that ain't broke, how about you show us how you are going to bring the players from 0e to 4e to one table, playing the with the same (new) edition of the game and keeping everyone happy.  We've seen a lot of talk about this lofty goal, but you are way off base if you think the only differences in the different editions is "rules complexity".

Show us how this will be accomplished.  Enough with the hype already.  Stop with the articles showing the latest "tweak" to a subsystem that has been around since 1974.  We want to see how the "one game to rule them all" will bring everyone together under one system.

Let's be honest:  all your articles (and Monte's) show is that WE WILL NOT be uniting behind the new system.  Change for the sake of change is worthless, and I for one will not spend money on a game that has no worth.  Show us something of value or don't show us anything at all.


A Frustrated Gamer

Mini Review - Toys For the Sandbox #9 - Dormant Volcano / The Nodelith Caldera (Generic OSRish)

Yeah, I've fallen behind in my Toys For the Sandbox reviews.  I think the folks over at Occult Moon are up to #11 and I'm just hitting #9.  Ah well, I'll catch up at some point.

Dormant Volcano (which is how it is titled at RPGNow) also goes by the name The Nodelith Caldera (which is the actual title of the PDF - confusing, aint it?).  In this case the name of the dormant volcano is Mount Nodelith, which should clear some things up.  The Nodelith Caldera is the floor of the volcano.  Simple, eh?

Well, this caldera has a galleon (a ship) embedded in it's rock wall.

As usual with the Toys for the Sandbox series we get a map, 6 hooks with 3 twists each (giving the GM 18 different possibilities to play with.  The nice thing about this entry in the series is that the hooks aren't exclusive... you can run with more that one, which gives this a lot of gaming potential.  We also get 4 NPCs, an encounter table and a rumor table.

It's hard to go wrong ;)

From the blurb:

From the steamy green of the southern Jungle the long dormant volcanic cone of Mount Nordelith rises. This once fiery mountain holds many secrets including a shipwreck, tales of the Ghost Dragon and a flying squirrel with a problem.

In the 9th issue of Toys for the Sandbox our exploration of this dormant volcano reveals flavor text, maps, 6 adventure hooks with 3 twists, a list of rumors and possible encounters.

Like the rest of the series you get all of this for 99 cents.

The Original 7 - Dungeons & Dragons "White Box" - Uh Oh It's Magic!

Yep, I'm still digging my way through Volume 2 - Monsters & Treasure.  Specifically, I'm looking at the magic goodies in this book.

Some things to note - fully 20% of magic items are magic swords.  Yep, 1 in 5 magic items is a sword.  I can see where fighters (and thieves to some extent) have a head start in magic items.  It should also be noted that maces only come in a +2 variety ;)

Hmm - 17% of magic swords are cursed.  Ouch!  That being said, there is no cursed armor or cursed miscellaneous weapons.  Go figure.

Clerics get 25% of the spell scrolls, which means magic-users gets 75% of the spell scrolls.  Ain't that a case for discrimination?  And what is this?  "The referee must take extreme care in handling Scrolls with an eye towards duping the players when a Curse Scroll is found.  The curse takes effect immediately upon reading the Scroll; therefore having non-Curse Scrolls disappear on occasion if not identified will help force reading of Curse Scrolls."  Holy shit!  You basically are being told to take away legitimate non-cursed items to force players to activate cursed items!

The Curse isn't some lame shit either:

Range 3" (30 feet)

1 or 2   Any monster of the referee's choice

3 or 4   Disease.  Fatal in 3 turns unless healed (this is a party killer.  no indication if party members get a chance to save)

5 or 6   Polymorph into insect of referee's choice (another party killer)

7          Transportation 1,000 miles, random direction (the ref better have a new setting in mind)

8          Transportation to another planet (campaign reboot here we come)

Did I mention that 1 in 10 scrolls are cursed?

You have a 1% chance that the ring you find is a Ring of Many Wishes.  Roll 4d6 and the sum is the number of wishes you just gave the party.  May as well end the campaign right now, because either they are going to achieve some major unbalancing power with the wishes (average 14) or the referee is going to so screw them over by using the "literal translation of the wish in order to fuck over the party" method, at which point it's going to be campaign over.

All swords (no other weapons) are intelligent and have an alignment.  Most swords are lawful.  Fully half of all swords are intelligent enough to have one or more powers and be able to communicate with their owners.  I thing EGG was greatly influenced by Elric's Stormbringer  and such, especially when 10% of swords have a purpose (slay clerics or defeat law and such).

Wands are assumed to have 100 charges and staves are assumed to have 200 charges.  I'm damn sure staves were cut down in later editions.

Holy crap but they fit a lot into 40 pages - monsters and magical treasures.  Well done!

Next - Tiptoe through the Underworld and the Wilderness.

Reboot Leads to Near TPK

The reboot I spoke of yesterday was using one of the earlier Adventure Paths.  I'm not sure which one, it may have been Age of Worms.  I figure the less I know, the less chance I'll inadvertently metagame.  We could have used some metagaming. ;)

We discovered a windtunnel trap with a pressure point BEFORE setting off the trap, so the party decided to anchor itself and tie themselves off and THEN set off the pressure plate.  Problem there is debris (such as flying PCs) and hurricane force winds don't mix well.  Heck, being tethered in a tunnel with 100+ MPH winds leads to much knocking around.

In the end the fighter was dead, the cleric was unconscious and I believe the other 2 PCs combined for 5 HPs - all for a trap we knew about and took protections against.  Oh, did I mention the trap also hypnotized players that failed their saves, resulting in 3 of the 4 PCs waiting on the wind to beat the crap out of them?  Oh, and the trap wasn't protecting anything that we could find.  If I figure out which AP this is and who wrote it, I'll be giving them a piece of my mind.  Grrrrrr!!!

Good news is, we try it all again next week ;)
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