Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mini Review - Deadlands Reloaded: Marshal's Handbook Explorer's Edition (Savage Worlds)

I first found Deadlands when it was it's own stand alone system.  For all intent and purposes, it was the precursor to the Savage Worlds system.

Now I find myself looking at it through a new lens - Deadlands Reloaded: Marshall's Handbook (Explorer's Edition) for Savage Worlds.  In a way, we've come full circle.

I still love the divergent history that is the setting of Deadlands.  American Western movies are pretty much our version of Avalon, King Arthur and the rest of the English / Celtic legends.  Deadlands starts with that Western assumption, throws in undead and magic, changes some major historical events and gives us a huge amount of awesomeness - if your players like Westerns.

Some folks don't like sci-fi, some don't like fantasy, some don't like westerns and others don't like horror.  Deadlands is a fantastical western horror setting (with some steampunkish elements), so it will either hit a lot of buttons for your group or miss a lot.  It hits all of the sweet spots for me.

The Marshal's Handbook gives us background and history, the major players, critters, new rules for the setting - pretty much everything you need to get the game moving from the GM's side of the table.

The PDF itself is well bookmarked and hyperlinked.  For a PDF coming in over 175 pages, these are pretty much necessities.  Heck, they even give permission to print the document for personal use.  You would kill your ink with the full color use layer controls to efficiently print the pages, but it's still a nice gesture.

Yep, another setting / system to add to my upcoming series of game arcs via G+ ;)

From the blurb:

*** The contents of the Deadlands Marshal's Handbook: Explorer's Edition and the Deadlands Marshal's Handbook are the same. The Explorer's Edition is formatted for 6.5"x9" while the Deadlands Marshal's Handbook is 8.5"x11". ***

There's Hell on the High Plains, amigo! The Tombstone Epitaph has always been filled with lurid tales of daring desperadoes and deadly drifters, but lately the West's most-read tabloid claims there's something more sinister stalking the frontier's lonely plains: Monsters. Fortunately, where there are monsters, there are heroes. Squint-eyed gunfighters, card-chucking hexslingers, savage braves, and righteous padres have all answered the call. And if they fight hard enough, they might just discover the identity of the mysterious Reckoners some say are behind it all.

The Marshal's Handbook is the setting book for Deadlands Reloaded. It includes expanded Setting Rules for the Marshal's eyes only, the lowdown on all the strange locales of the Weird West, more creepy critters than you can throw a tomahawk at, and everything a Marshal needs to keep the Reckoning rolling.

The Deadlands Reloaded Marshal's Handbook is not a complete game. You'll also need the Deadlands Reloaded Player's Guide and the Savage Worlds core rulebook to play.

This full-featured PDF includes a hyperlinked table of contents and index, bookmarks, and layer controls so you only print what you need.

Full-sized book (8.5"x11"). 160 full-color pages.

Looking at the Latest "Rule of Three": Give Me a Solo, Multi Cone Please! (D&D 5e)

You can find the original article here.

1  How do you plan to improve Solo monsters in D&D Next?

There have always been some monsters in D&D that are meant to fight the party alone (at least, the first time you encounter them), so it's a safe bet that the kinds of monsters we refer to as "solo monsters" in 4E have a strong place in the future of the game (but did "solo" monsters exist before 4e, or is this a "feature" that 4e ripped from MMORPGs?  Do "solo" monsters, monsters built and powered far beyond their racial norm, really have a place in D&D.  Aren't dragons and the like effectively "solo monsters", depending on the party's level?). Right now, when it comes to monsters, we're looking to build each monster to provide the best expression of that monster's traditional experience, and in many cases that means squaring off against the heroes without any other creatures in the mix (which is pretty much what I was talking about above - if your need a solo monster for a bunch of gobbies, use a bugbear).

As far as "improving solo monsters" goes, there are some things we have learned over the course of the last few years (4e era) that are vulnerabilities that can plague solo monsters; being taken out of the fight by conditions like daze/stun/dominate (is that really so bad?  if it happens to be taken out quickly by smart players, doesn't that speed up combat and gameplay?), or lasting too long so the fight starts to drag (from what I've heard, that's very common in 4e combat), running out of tricks to pull (what tricks?  dailies and encounter powers?  same issues with vancian magic to some extent, but vancian doesn't get "at will"), being challenging for the DM to run, etc. However, not all of these are exclusively monster issues, and some can be solved by changing things elsewhere in the game. For example, if we used something like the "hit points as a threshold for affecting monsters" mechanic that Mike described for "save or die" spells in a recent Legends & Lore column, we can cut down on some of the challenges solos face because of conditions (but it does add a whole new thing for the overworked DM to track). We're looking at generally increasing the speed of combat overall (from 4e?  from 3.5e?  what is the baseline they are trying to achieve speed wise?) and finding ways to streamline monsters (Tunnels & Trolls 7.5e shows how to streamline monsters and yet still give them unique powers and abilities) while still making the experience of fighting them exciting, both of which will impact solo monsters, not to mention all other kinds of monsters, too.

 2  Can you give us any more insight into the multiclassing goals for D&D Next?
As with many, many other things, we're just in the earliest stages of design and testing on this, but here's what we have in mind. When you gain a level, you can choose any class and gain a level in that class, much in the same way that it functioned in 3rd Edition (with Monte behind the wheel of 5e, it's pretty much what i expected). Of course, those of you who play or played 3E know that there can sometimes be issues with this, and if you aren't careful you can build a character that struggles with effectiveness at higher levels. However, there's a lot of good that comes out of this system, including organic character growth, expansive character building options without the need for large swathes of material, and the ability to express your character's specialties through a unique mix of classes.

While there are certainly challenges with this system, a few other changes in the game make it more viable in the next iteration. As I mentioned last week, we're looking at a bounded accuracy system where accuracy (of everything, from attacks to spells) does not automatically go up with level (going back to the Lie of THAC0 - THAC0 increases in proportion to AC increases means you are just treading water.  I assume this also means that Acs won't be changing much as one levels in 5e). The discrepancies in base attack bonus between classes in 3E made some multiclassing combinations more difficult to pull off; absent those discrepancies, with the right ability score mix, the fighter and wizard classes mix together without that difficulty. Another thing we're looking at is the way we word certain abilities, making sure that disparate classes work well together. For example, instead of the fighter having to spend a single action to make multiple attacks, we might say that the extra attacks that the fighter gains as he gains levels are effectively free actions that the fighter takes on his turn. Thus, if my fighter/wizard picked up an extra attack through his levels of fighter, he might be able to cast a spell as his main action and then still get his extra attack, giving him the benefit of all of his class levels. (interesting, but I foresee game balance issues)

While this isn't the complete list of all the things we need to do to help make multiclassing flexible and easy, it's an example of the kinds of things we're looking at doing because of what we've learned from the good things and the challenges of previous versions of the game. And, of course, it may turn out to be just one option among several for how multiclassing works in the next version of the game.

 3  I love the Burst, Blast and Area spells in 4th ED, but I have to admit that I have been secretly praying you guys would bring back my beloved Cone and Line spells. Will you guys be bringing those effects back to mages near me?

Right now, the design of the game does not assume by default that you are using a battlemat and miniatures when adjudicating combat (now this is damn good news which I've heard before but just like to hear repeated), and as such we feel confident that spells like cone of cold could be cones, and lightning bolt could be a line, without having too many problems. However, when we present the rules for using a grid for combat, we're going to want to present ways to convert those spells into the more grid-friendly areas like bursts and blasts (why can't a "cone" be a "cone" template?  why can't a "lightning bolt" be a "lightning bolt " template?). We can also present the grid-based versions of bursts, cones, lines, etc. found in the 3.5 Edition of the game (see, why did they have to talk about converting when they already have what they need?  sigh). Moreover, we don't even have to limit ourselves to a square grid, and could present the rules for playing on a hex grid too, allowing each group to determine what fits their needs best. (why does the template have to fit the grid?  real life doesn't fit s grid.)

Digging Deeper Into the Hollow Earth Expedition RPG

I've spent some more time with Hollow Earth Expedition and it really is looking like it might become my "go to" non-OSR system of choice.  Well, the underlying Ubiquity might become my non-OSR system of choice.

It seems to do everything that Savage Worlds can do, just a tad bit simpler and possibly play even faster.  This is not a knock on Savage Worlds.  SW has more settings, more plot point campaigns, more everything and it does them very well.  I'm looking at both Solomon Kane and Deadlands for story arcs, and I have no plus to try and squeeze them into Ubiquity (besides the fact that I don't know the systems well enough to do the conversion, it would change the underlying gameplay and become something other than what it currently is.  If that makes sense to you ;)

I'm close to dropping some cash on Desolation, a fantasy post magical apocalyptic game / setting built on the Ubiquity engine.  Not sure if I'll like the default setting, but I'm sure I can use the basis to make my own fantasy world if desired.  I very much want to see how they handle magic, as it isn't part of the core Ubiquity rules in HEX.  It's a stand alone go, so you don't need HEX to play it.

I've never been all that partial to Pulp RPGs.  Along with Supers, it's something that I enjoy reading or viewing, but I've never felt all that excited playing them.  HEX, with it's awesomely detailed historic background of the setting has made me more comfortable with the pulp styled theme, but it still isn't one of my preferred themes.  It won't stop me from GM a few sessions.  I think the system is a prefect match for a pulp styled RPG.

Just like Savage Worlds, you have access to "bennies" / "style points" which gives the player a boost when he needs it.  It's a nice way to give the players some extra control over their destiny and as they are awarded in the Ubiquity system for roleplaying your characters motivations, among other things, they are more then just a tool to help the PCs.  It's a tool that rewards players for keeping in character, even if it results in a short term detriment.

Yeah, I really need to see how this converts to a fantasy setting (and I can really see this being used is an Original Star Trek setting or Star Wars type of setting).

Lots to read today ;)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Freebie @ RPGNow -Argyle & Crew - Adventure in the Land of Skcos

First things first.  Although they are calling it a "Friday Freebie", it is free for the whole weekend.  Just so you don't think this expires an hour from when I post this. ;)

From what I can gather, Friday Freebies will be a weekly occurrence.  I'll post them as I find them.

Now, on to Argyle & Crew

It's a collaborative storytelling adventure for kids. It's a great pick up game for adults. It's the sock puppet RPG!

The land of Skcos is inhabited by all manner of things, but primarily its inhabitants belong to a race of ever changing, always interesting creatures called Soppets. Soppets are a magical breed of intelligent, funny, thrill seeking socks.

Yes, you read that correctly, Socks. 

Argyle & Crew is a free wheeling system powered by imagination. Rather than a character sheet like a traditional RPG, your character and it's attributes are all based on a sock puppet, or in Skcos lingo, a Soppet. Each Soppet has several unique qualities which allow it to do extraordinary things!

Argyle & Crew is great game for children as young as 4 years old. Short scenarios and active participation keep things lively! Useful as a learning tool not just for gaming, but for life lessons, Argyle & Crew can easily be used in a classroom setting. Professionals working on counseling children can find this game equally useful for indirectly or directly exploring past experiences and future anxieties. Use the additional rules for older children or adults and expand the game from a fun, play driven activity to a fully developed RPG, using a simple and fun set of mechanics.

Please note that if you are purchasing the Softcover of Argyle & Crew, choose to get the PDF as well. It's free, and the PDF has 6 pages of sock puppet accessories you can cut out which are not included in the print version.

This is a Creative Commons licensed title.

Be sure to check out all of the free Argyle & Crew scenarios available for download!
25% of all profits raised by selling this product will be given directly to The Wayne Foundation, a 503(c) organization.  The Wayne Foundation is committed to fighting human trafficking, child prostitution, & child sex exploitation one victim at a time by providing individuals with a safe home environment that will empower them with the tools they will need to stop the cycle of abuse

The Original 7 - Dungeons & Dragons "White Box" - Wandering the Wilderness

No, I haven't forgotten this series of posts, just had a lot of other stuff on my plate.  Now that that is out of the way, lets continue our look at D&D Book 3, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.

Looking back at book 1, The Outdoor Survival Board game was a suggested accessory, but not required. Which is strange, as book 3 makes it seem like it is, at the very least, an assumed accessory:
The terrain beyond the immediate surroundings of the dungeon area should be unknown to all but the referee.  Off-hand adventures (WTF is an "off-hand adventure"?) in the wilderness are made on the OUTDOOR SURVIVAL playing board (explained below).  Exploratory journeys, such as expeditions to find land suitable for a castle or in search of some legendary treasure are handled in an entirely different manner. 
OUTDOOR SURVIVAL has a playing board perfect for general adventures.  Catch basins are castles, buildings are towns, and the balance of the terrain is as indicated.
Certainly seems like EGG and DA expected every ref to have a copy, or at least access to a copy of Outdoor Survival.

Heck there are other references to Outdoor Survival in book 3:  Terrain Penalties and Lost Parties both refer the referee to the Outdoor Survival Game Board and Rules for the relevant rules in these sections.  So yeah, you could run your game without OS, but you'd have to make up or fudge the missing rules.  If you ask me, this was either an attempt to send another company business (which I doubt) or a bit of laziness in rules design.

What else?

Wandering Monster tables by terrain type.

Construction of Castles and Stronghold.  This is where the campaign takes a turn in a different direction.  No mention of required levels to build a stronghold, all you need is cash.  The player draws a map of his soon to be build stronghold and gives a copy to the referee - cause you never know when a siege may take place ;)

It is nicely broken down, including diagrams of specific castle section, their dimensions and the cost to build.

Of course, if you have a stronghold, you need to hire people to keep it running and keep it protected.  The monthly cost of everything from Assassins to Men-At-Arms are included, so as to part the PCs from their treasures and gold.

Now here's a tidbit I don't recall:
Players / Characters must pay Gold Pieces equal to 1% of their experience points for support and upkeep, until such a time as they build a stronghold.  If the stronghold is in a wilderness area all support and upkeep costs cease, but if it is in a village or town not controlled by the player / character then support and upkeep payments must continue.
Kinda like a monthly PC tax.

Of course, if the PCs clear land for a barony (in other words, kill off the monsters that are there) they may collect taxes from the inhabitants of 10 gp each per year.

There are also rules for Land Combat (pretty much using Chainmail), Air to Air Missile Combat (which includes hit locations and a Critical Hit Table - damn, I guess crits have been in the game since the beginning) and Naval Combat.

Yep, that's book 3.  Next up:  The Wrap Up.

Hackmaster 5e Basic Priced at 5 For $25

James over at Grognardia mentioned this yesterday, but just in case you missed it:

KenzerCo is offering the Hackmaster Basic Rulebook as a set of 5 for $25 (plus $11 shipping and handling here in the states).

I've had the book since it's release back in 2010(?) and although I don't plan on running a straight Hackmaster game, there are bit's and pieces for me to steal for the OSR style games I plan on running.  Normally it's $19.99 a copy, so for an extra $5.01 you get 4 extra copies for your group.  Not bad at all.

I ordered a set for the next Gathering of Fools, which should be coming up in a month or so with my old gaming group.  I always like to bring gaming goodies ;)

Mega Millions is at $640 Million - I Wonder How Much D&D Would Cost? ;)

Mega Millions is causing Lotto Fever here in the states now that the prize has hit $640 Million.

I was just wondering how much it would cost to buy Dungeons & Dragons from WotC / Hasbro.

Hey, a dollar and a dream, ya never know ;)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Some Thoughts On Criticals - Curving the Scores

Some people love criticals in their games.  Some hate them.  I tend to be on the fence.

Lets face it, they add excitement for the players, but they are also a hidden albatross, wearing down the players' hit points more over the long term than the cannon fodder they are dispatching.

Additionally, they tend to be a fixed number.  Natural 20 is a common on (you crit 5% of the time, whether your chance to hit is 50% or 5%), or its a range of numbers, usually depending on weapon (thinking 3x here), something like 18-20.

What is the usual critical effect?  Maximum damage or double damage.  Why, because it's simple to figure out.

Here's my thoughts (not that I'm finished thinking) on the matter.

Why don't we make it range dependent upon the number you need to hit.  Something like "all rolls 5 or better than the score you need to hit may be a critical.  Please refer to the critical table".  This means the better your chance to hit your opponent, the better your chance to possibly critically hit him.  Additionally, if you barely have a chance to hit him, you have no chance to score a critical.

Critical Table  (Roll 1D10)
1-3   Normal Damage only
          4-5  +2 To Hit on your next attack against your opponent (You are pressing your opponent)
6-7  +2 To You AC until the end of your opponent's next round (You have your opponent off balance) 
8-9  Get the benefits of the above two rolls (+2 Hit and +2 AC against your opponent)
10  You have an opening! Get a free attack immediately against your opponent!  Your free attack may also be a possible critical if you roll high enough.

This does away with automatically adding damage to the attack, while still offering bonuses for the player (or the monster).

Netflix on Demand - Lilyhammer

Netflix producing it's own "TV Series"?  No way!

yeah, apparently No Way is right.  Local company sold the rights to Netflix.

Yep, the first Netflix series is called Lilyhammer.

It's the story of a well placed NYC mobster who survives a hit on himself (but loses his dog), decided to go state's evidence and gets relocated, as per his wishes, to Lillehammer, Norway (NOT Finland ya dumb American! ;).  Hey, what can he say? It looked like a nice place when it hosted the Winter Olympics back in 1994.

Filmed on location in Norway, with Norwegian actors (the exception being our lead - Frank Tagliano played by Steven Van Zandt), this is actually a fun little series.

Alright, I've only watched the first episode so far, but I really do like what I see, and the next 7 episodes are waiting for me to watch them.  Heck, the wife really enjoyed this too (after which I put her to sleep with Ironclad).

It's funny and witty with the fish out of water show of watching Frank trying to transition from NEW York to Norway.  I suspect he's going to expect Norway to conform to him.

It's  good watch, and I'm sure some decent plot hooks to be found for those GMs running games in the modern era.

How Do You Handle Missing Players in Your Game Sessions?

Vacations. Family Emergencies. Work. Internet Issues (for VTTs and G+). There are many possible reasons for a player to miss a game.

What happens with the game when one of your regulars can't make the session?

Do you play something else? Back in my college days, if we were short a regular we would often pull out Chaos Marauders, Ameba Wars, Nuclear War, Risk or Talisman. Occasionally if someone had something prepared for a different RPG system we might do a one shot.

I know some groups (as we did on occasions) bring the absent player's PC along as an NPC. The problem with this method is no likes to return to their PC being dead, which does happen.

Depending on where the last session ended, you can leave the absent player's PC back in town, but it was rare for any of our sessions to wrap up that completely. Usually we were halfway into a dungeon when we wrapped up for the night, with the intention of picking up from there the next session.

So, how do you handle missing players in your campaign's game sessions?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

First Look at Hollow Earth Expedition

Now that I actually have Hollow Earth Expedition in hand (and not the two free quick starts, which are both very good introductions for the system) I must say I am really impressed.  More impressed than I have any right to be.

Savage Worlds does a lot of things right.  Once you are comfortable with the system, it most certainly does play fast and furious (I'm fairly certain Solomon Kane will be in my list of games to run in the short story arcs).

That being said, I think HEX will play even quicker.

The Ubiquity System, which HEX is built upon (and really should be released as a stand alone core system) is extremely intuitive and user friendly, at least that's what I get from it on my initial read.  The ability to take an average result for non-stressful event determination is a great time saver if used properly.

The secret is even results on a single die are a success.  Roll the number of dice you are rated at for that action (any even sided dice will do), count the even number of successes and compare it to the number of successes you needed to succeed.  The degree you succeed by or fail by will be determined by the number of even results and the target number needed.

It really is a sweet system.

It's also asking me to hack it to either high fantasy and / or space opera type sic-fi.  I must be hanging around too many game designers these days.

I think the space opera hack could be fairly simple (well, relatively simple) compared to the fantasy hack, as I don't believe there is a spell system here.  I may be able to crib the spell system from Savage Worlds for that purpose, but that may occupy more time than I have free these days.

This will definitely been in my short list of games to be run in the short story arcs.

Major thanks to Runeslinger Casting Shadows on G+ for the HEX suggestion ;)

No Nits to Pick in the Latest Mike Mearls Post - These Are Not The Rules You Are Looking For

I'll give credit where credit is due.  Mike's latest post is on the money.  I'm not going to pick it apart, there's nothing to pick at.

Here's the link to the original.

Just going to quote my favorite part:

There are a lot of pieces of D&D that a veteran gamer doesn't need, but a newcomer, casual gamer, or DM short on time finds critical. Here are two specific examples.
Adventure Design Guidelines: Stuff such as XP budgets, treasure tables, encounter charts, and so on are there to make it easier to create adventures and build your campaign. If you are a veteran DM, it's quite likely you won't use any of this stuff.
I'll let you in on a secret. I DM'ed a year-long Eberron campaign in 3E and I never once used the rules for treasure or wealth by level. I gave out stuff that seemed cool and appropriate, and the game worked fine. I used the challenge rating system as a starting point, but modified stuff to fit my group.

Here's some cake.  Maybe later, we can eat it too ;)

Netflix On Demand: Ironclad

My wife and I watched some Netflix on Demand over the weekend. When I saw she was getting sleepy, I found a movie I figured she want to sleep through anyway - Ironclad.

It's a movie taking place in England during the time of the Magna Carta.

Be forewarned, it has very little to do with actual history. If you were a history major with a focus on England and the Middle Ages you need to let yourself go and enjoy the ride. That's what I did, and it made for an entertaining movie.

You get Templars, priests, a baron, a king, angry Danes - it's almost like a Medieval Magnificent Seven. Actually, it is very much like a Medieval Magnificent Seven.

Enjoy it for the ride, not for the history. It's the same way I watch most police themed movies. I just intentionally suspend my disbelief ;)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mini Review - Advanced Adventures #23: Down the Shadowvein (OSRIC)

Down the Shadowvein is the follow up to AA#1: The Podmaster of the Sinister Shroom, and can be used to follow that adventure or on it's own.  All the GM needs to supply is an underground river they can canoe down and a map leading to treasure down river.  Its for character levels 3 to 5.

I really wish I could find my copy of PotSS, but it's packed in a box somewhere in storage.  Ah well, onward to Down the Shadowvein.

The GM's map (and the Player's map too) is a hex map, inducing the river and adventure locations and passages.  It's weird but cool that the underground map is similar to an above ground map, even though the party is going to be thinking "dungeon".

If it reminds me of any classic adventure, it's D1-2, when the party travelled through the underdark.  There is much of that feel here, as the random encounters the party may interact with include merchant trains.  Merchant trains underground, ya gotta love it. :)

The main encounter areas are mapped out like dungeons, so your players (and you) will be in comfortable surroundings at times.  In truth, this plays out (almost) like a sandbox campaign underground, as the players have choices in the directions they will take.

Still, it is not the usual sort of adventure, and it may be awkward for some GMs to run it.  It is underground, and most travel will probably be via river, but there are also numerous passages for the party to stumble through.

Depending on how thoroughly the party explores their sandbox, this could take two to three 4 hour sessions to complete.  There really is a lot to explore in the two dozen pages in this adventure.

You also get 2 new magic items and 4 new monsters.

From the blurb:

Down the Shadowvein is an OSRIC(tm) module designed for 6-10 adventures of levels 3-5.

You carefully load your canoes and launch into the fast-moving waters of the underground river named Shadowvein. The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom behind you, the veracity of the map that is to be your guide into the dark unknown will soon be tested. Hopefully what is written is accurate, but if it is not, your wits, wile, and brawn should serve you well as you journey down the Shadowvein!

Down the Shadowvein picks up where The Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom left off, but it can be played by those who have not explored that module. Down the Shadowvein continues in The Mouth of the Shadowvein.

Free Stock Art - Horror / Gothic - "The Prayer"

It's not often that you find free stock art for commercial and personal use.  This is one of those rare occasions.  You can grab "The Prayer" and use it your your projects.

I'll let the artwork speak for itself:

from the blurb:

This file contains two versions of the image “The Prayer” - the original file and a bonus version with a watercolour effect. Either image may be used for commercial or personal products as per the included license.

TITLE: The Prayer
SIZE: 1348 × 1684 pixels

some images used with permission from Wooden Vampire Games.

Hollow Earth Expedition RPG at First Glance

Let's see how fast Amazon gets me the Hollow Earth Expedition Rulebook. In the meantime, I've looked at the 2008 and 2009 Free RPG Day Quickstarts for HEX, and I must say I'm really impressed. It looks to be a truly quick and easy system to run.

I'm hoping when I have the rules in hand I'll have a better idea if this can be hacked (I know there is a 3 Musketeers version out there) into sci-fi space opera or even high fantasy. I need to look closer.

Still, I like what I see thus far.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Looking Back at What Almost Was: Adventure Games Journal #1 and The Wilderlands of High Adventure

Is it four years since the first (only?) issue of the Adventure Games Journal?

Let me catch folks up on AGJ, it's publisher Adventure Games Publishing and the one man show behind it all, James Mishler.  James had the idea of licensing Judges Guild's Wilderlands, which in turn was going to use the Castles & Crusades license, to produce a line of gaming supplements.  And so he did.  Excellent stuff.  Well written stuff.  Well presented stuff.  For printed products, fairly priced stuff.

To pay for future publishing, and I'm sure hoping he had lightning in a barrel, as the reviews from Grognardia and elsewhere were damn near perfect, James offered a subscription scheme.  You even got yourself an ID number of sorts (which was a matter of pride for those of us that had one).  Everything was looking great.

Until it no longer did.  Apparently, James ran short of funds to print items that were due to subscribers, and the direct to PDF supplements I'm assuming didn't bring in the cash that was expected.  By mid 2009, he had gone waay from the subscriptions (which were converted to credit for other releases) and then James went away for a bit.  He came back, hoping to get things moving again, and it just never happened.

He planned to pay out subscribers with either products or a refund as his finances permitted, I believe in subscriber number order.  Unless I missed an email, it never reached me.  Amazingly, I really don't care about the cash and I would have told him such if it ad reached me.  I just wish James was still producing product.

His stuff was good.  I would have really enjoyed watching him rework a corner of the Wilderlands.  Heck, I'd love to see him produce his very own Sandbox Styled Campaign.  If he did it via Kickstarter, I'd be the first to put my money down.  Yes, I mean it.  It was that good.

I have no idea hat James is doing now, although I assume it is far and away from RPGs.  Damn shame.  James was an excellent writer.  His business sense might not have been up there will his skill as a game designer, but that doesn't detract from the skill that he has.  It just makes it stand out more.

Looking Back at The Morrow Project

Over the next couple of days I'll be posting pics of some of the older or more obscure stuff in my gaming collection.  This one is of The Morrow Project.

One of my friends dearly wanted to play in a Morrow Project campaign.  He owned the books, I didn't, but he gave them to me with the understanding that I would run, or at least "attempt to run" it as a campaign.  It never happened.

I just couldn't find the "system" within the rulebook.  Sure, I can find blood transfusion charts, radiation exposure charts and numerous weapon charts, but it's a confusing mass of rules that is nearly impossible to navigate.  It required way too much effort, especially after Twilight 2000 was released by GDW.  Although far from a perfect system, Twilight 2000 allowed for a gaming experience that was "after the bomb" so to speak.

This got put on a shelf and pretty much forgotten about, until I pulled it from a box destined for storage this morning.

Lot's of memories even if it was never played.

Looking Back and Forward at the Temple of Elemental Evil

I took today off to move yet more stuff to storage.  Slowly but surely, things are returning to normal.  I'm putting about 90% of my gaming goodies into storage, but I'm doing quick looks through the boxes that I hastily packed up in November to make sure nothing "overly awesome" is going to be lost in the abyss.

One of the books I pulled from a box today was T1-4, The Temple of Elemental Evil.  I must have ran this nearly a half dozen times for different groups.  It's beat to crap, but that's from use, not shelf wear.

Notice the cover of the 16 page map booklet that accompanied it?  Not only does it include at the dungeon maps, 2 town maps, a map of an inn, a church, a guard tower, a trader's establishment and numerous ruins, it also includes a nice sandbox hex map with such labels as: "Beware Evil", "Danger" and "Evil Lurks Here".  This is how to make a sandbox work: you give leads to the players and see where it goes.

Now, ToEE wasn't much of a sandbox.  No, the sucker is one hell of a megadungeon, with many different factions at work within.  Still, it was placed within a micro-sandbox if you will.

When I take the Hex Series from Loviatar, mix in some Toys For the Sandbox, Barrowmaze and Dwimmermount, the players will have choices, but I'll be ready for 95% of the choices they make (you can never be ready for everything).

Hmm... do I want to make ToEE a third megadungeon in the area?  Nah... too much mega, too little space. But I could use the Moathouse.  Actually, I think I will use the Moathouse.  ToEE never gets old :)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Catching Up With "The Rule of Three" - Complexity, Dreaded Monster Abilities and Smart Play

original article is here

What kind of steps are you guys taking to make sure we don't see a big difference in complexity between classes like the fighter and the wizard (and why shouldn't there be a complexity difference between the two?), and what are you doing to avoid the linear fighter/quadratic wizard issue ? (I have no idea what the fuck they are talking about here)

One of the challenges when talking about these kinds of issues is terminology, and the tendency for concepts to get lumped in with one another when they can be quite separate issues. Complexity is a separate issue than power; I can design an incredibly complex class that isn't very powerful, and some very simple things that are extremely powerful. Take a look at feats in 4th Edition; the original Weapon Expertise feat is an incredibly simple feat, yet many people would argue that it is one of the most powerful feats because it provides a raw numerical upgrade to accuracy that is not contingent on meeting certain conditions, and that cascades throughout the entirety of the attack system (yeah, uhm... i guess i am glad i skipped 4e). Additionally, there is a difference between symmetry and parity. When looking to design two classes, I may want to make sure that there is parity between the options available to each class, without needing to be symmetrical and give them the exact same kinds of options in the same frequency (most players can't tell the difference). Parity and symmetry can be applied to both power and complexity, making these two axes of design. Personally, my experience with games (both RPGs and board games) is that symmetry is not essential for parity, and in many cases the game can often be made more exciting by asymmetrical mechanics (funny how Mike and Monte can write and be understood by the masses, and here I feel like I'm back in college calculus.  I understand what he is saying, but there are much easier ways to say it without sounding... pompous)

The linear fighter/quadratic wizard phrase, for those of you unfamiliar with it, refers to an environment where the fighter progresses at a steady pace, with its output increasing by a relatively set amount at each level. The quadratic wizard, on the other hand, gains output increases both from additional spells (more spells = more output) but also from those spells dealing more damage and having more powerful effects (turning people to stone, instant death, etc.). Thus, the wizard eventually outstrips the fighter in output thanks to an ever-increasing series of gains over many levels (ah, the classic "weak as shit as a newbie, but a powerhouse at higher levels".  ever notice that intelligent adversaries always target the casters when the DM plays them right?).

To address the first part of the question, I think it's OK for it to be possible to have a big difference in complexity between the fighter and the wizard, if that is what the player wants. (but couldn't we just design a variant caster class, say "sorcerer", and have that be the simple wizzie?) What is important is that if the player chooses this path, we want to ensure that there remains parity in his effectiveness despite the difference in complexity. We've already shown how this is possible with the slayer fighter from Essentials; complexity of options is lower with the slayer, but the slayer can still retain parity of effectiveness with the other classes. I've said it before, but one of the best things we gained from the design and development of 4th Edition is a handle on how to examine the math behind a character's effectiveness (again, IMHO, removing the "soul" from the game), and there are even more steps we can take to accurately gauge a character's capabilities given the last five years of experience working on that game. Whether a player chooses to play a complex character or a simple character, making sure that character has parity with the effectiveness of the other members of the party should always be a goal. (does this mean everyone is just as effective as everyone else, both in and out of combat?  was there any out of combat actions in 4e that weren't "combat" with the serial number scraped off?)

When we look at providing options for character building, however, symmetry does not need to be a goal. The goal should be to provide a satisfying experience that does what the players want. Take, for example, the fighter. In a previous column, I mentioned that the fighter could serve the need for a low complexity class, and also have options to serve the needs of those who want a high complexity class. It is important when examining ways to build in that complexity that we focus not on symmetry, but on the needs of the player who plays the more complex character. I would argue that what the player looking to play a complex fighter needs (in broad, generalized terms; I full well realize that every single player's needs are different) includes things like having multiple options for things to do on their turn, have some expendable resources, have the ability to expend those resources for great effect, and have some ability to customize a fighting style to match their vision of the character. (Note that I chose to focus on combat here, but the same points can apply to exploration and interaction). Those goals can then be married with story goals, and verisimilitude (SAT word for the win) needs, and a host of other goals to, hopefully, produce the fighter that meets the players' needs. (I feel this whole paragraph is a bunch of over thinking by a game designer.  make the game fun, and the rest will take care of itself)

There is a challenge in making sure that higher-level non-spellcasters have a good variety of unique, and compelling options available to them (if the wizard can fly, teleport, and travel the planes, what does the rogue do?) (umm, roguish shit perhaps?), but that's something we solve by making available those creative options; again, parity of compelling options, not symmetry of mechanics. I think we see some great examples of compelling mechanics for non-spellcasters at higher levels in 4E, especially in epic destinies. Take the Thief of Legend's ability to steal intangible things, or to basically be so good of a thief that he can steal something and have it appear in a place of his choosing. (so, the thief in 4e gets magical powers?  now I'm really glad I skipped 4e)

I was wondering about some of the more dreaded monster abilities that made some previous edition monsters scary. Are you guys looking at the return of things like level drain, instant death effects, harmful polymorph spells or abilities, etc?

In general, I think that monsters should do what fans of D&D lore expect them to do, and if that means being really scary mechanically then so be it (good answer so far). I think there's room in the game for monsters that simply are more dangerous and deadly than others, just as I think there's room in the game for monsters whose purpose is to be interacted with, not fought. I also think it's good for monsters to exist that you don't want to face in a straight-up fight, but that you need to be prepared for or figure out a clever way to outwit rather than going in spells a-blazin'. (hey, this sounds like "Old School" gaming shit here) There needs to be an element of danger in the world in order for the game to feel exciting, and unpredictability is important for sustaining engagement. (holy crap!  does this mean characters "Can Die!?!)

We have some game tech developed for 4E that helps a lot here; for example, rather than being petrified instantly, we might use the method that requires you to fail two saving throws before becoming petrified, allowing the player (and his or her allies) to try and intervene in the process (I hope the first fail is at least the equivalent of a slow spell). And we may look at something like level drain and say, "Here's a mechanic that is both scary, and causes some game play issues," and then try and find a new solution that retains its sense of danger without using the exact same mechanics.  (I'll reserve judgement so far.  little info here)

The other important element when dealing with monsters that have scary abilities is education. We need to be able to communicate to the DM when a particular monster is suitable for a straight-up fight, and when it should be used more carefully. For example, if a medusa can instantly turn you to stone, that's fine, provided that the DM knows that a medusa shouldn't be just casually tossed into an adventure without first dropping hints to the players (allowing them to be prepared for the medusa when encountered) or being aware of the consequences of using a monster that instantly petrifies foes. (actually, this is also very "Old School" in nature.  forewarned is forearmed)
It was mentioned in the recent Legends and Lore that Vancian magic rewards smart play for wizards. What kinds of things are you working on to reward smart play for fighters? For other classes?

I prefer not to use the term "smart play," because even if I decide I don't want to carefully mete out my resources doesn't mean I'm not playing smart—it just means I am not as interested in the game-centric aspects of D&D (er, but vancian magic is about managing resources.  and D&D is still a game, right?  isn't that why they are using mathematical formulas, to prove they can balance the game). To address the question of what we're going to do to engage players of other classes looking for a more strategic play experience, it's going to depend on the class, truthfully, and the play style of the character. For example, the fighter might be concerned with things like the preservation of hit points, which not only includes making strategic choices at character creation, but also might involve managing a pool of self-healing resources, or using defense-based options to mitigate damage while still occupying an enemy's attention (thus also mitigating the damage that enemy could do to the fighter's allies) (MMORPG Tank type class) . The rogue might be more concerned with the management of risks, moving into a dangerous fray to fell a dangerous foe vs. sitting back and playing it safe, but not dropping an enemy as quickly. However, those need to be meaningful decisions; if it's always simply the right thing to do, there's no real reward for thinking strategically or tactically. (i'll accept these ideas.  they sound like fun additions to the game)

Resource expenditure is not the only source of fulfilling tactical and strategic play, but it is a perfectly valid one. Just as valid are things like target selection, knowing when to take risks, choosing the right tool for the job, knowing how to mitigate randomness, having backups ready in case of failure, and balancing a trade-off between accuracy, damage, and defenses. Moreover, it's a perfectly valid choice to decide that one wants to eschew all of that and focus more on the narrative of the character. This touches again on the symmetry issue from the first question: giving a class a fulfilling strategic or tactical play option is not about mirroring the options of other classes, but creating a satisfying experience for that class. (from what I understand, this is a lesson learned from mistakes in 4e) Who is the ultimate judge of what is satisfying? Well, you are, which is why we want to use the playtesting process to make sure we are achieving that goal.

Free Quick Start - Faith & Demons: The Rising (Savage Worlds Setting)

Usually when you find a Quick Start Guide, its to introduce you to a new system.  In the case of Faith & Demons, it's to introduce you to a new setting for the Savage Worlds Rules.

So, what kind of setting is Faith & Demons?  Well, it's our world, around the years 1000 AD (the authors don't use C.E. dating, and I applaud them for it).  The Dark ages might be owing to an end, but creatures from the dark have made it into our world.  It's a world of magic (many types of magic).  It's a world in trouble, and it's up to your players to help stem the tide of the undead and other evil that walks the world.

It's historical in it's foundation, but obviously strays far and wide in this setting, which is fine.  It's a fantasy setting will roots players can relate to.

The quick start includes a short introduction to the setting, a short adventure and 6 pregens.  The one small complaint I have is that the pregens are caster heavy - 4 of the 6 characters are casters.  Maybe it's my roots in D&D, but I feel that the numbers should be reversed.  Well, that and the only part of Savage Worlds I have difficulty grokking is the casting.  Go figure ;)

Still, not bad for free and looks like an interesting setting for Savage Worlds.

From the blurb:

As if the power vacuum created by Rome’s fall isn’t enough, the survivors are fighting against multiple forces. Religious persecution has reared its head with claims of heresy against those who are just worshiping as they always have. Tribal conflicts threaten to tear asunder tenuous allegiances. The land is suffering from the fall-out of it all making nomadic life more difficult than typical. The undead armies, horrific demons, and a host of once mythological creatures stalking the landscape create tension from shore to shore. Someone needs to do something. And the lords have decided your party counts as ‘someone.’

Your characters have it in them to be more than a survivor. Lead your nomadic tribe’s defense against all sides to become a legendary warrior. Best a demon lord. Quell the lich’s vampire army. Call down the angels of heaven to fight at your side. Or maybe call upon the denizens of hell to tear apart your foes.

The Faith & Demons: The Rising Quick Start Guide serves as an introduction and a primer to the Faith & Demons: The Rising plot point setting for Savage Worlds. The Quick Start Guide contains everything the GM and players need to begin their campaign through the gothic fantasy version of Earth's Dark Ages including 6 pre-generated characters, new mechanics, and an adventure.
Are you up for the challenge? Join in the fight to destroy the armies of chaos!

LotFP's Indiegogo Project is Fully Funded - And Then Some

Leave it to me to wait for (nearly) the last possible minute to jump into the waters of Jim Raggi's crowd sourced project The Monolith Beyond Time and Space plus The God That Crawls.

It's not that Raggi doesn't do good shit - he does.  Production qualities are always aces and I've like (if not really liked) nearly everything that Raggi has written.  I haven't been as happy with the writing when he's published for third parties, but even in these cases, production qualities were top notch (although I still scratch my head about the overly purple map included with Carcosa).

So, when I saw that there were only about 9 hours left to fund this project (it was funded, just pushing towards it's second bonus goal, which I think I helped push it over) I bit the bullet and funded for the print and PDF copies of the two books.

Yep, I've become a crowd source addict.

Ah well, could be worse.  I mean, Raggi does good writing, finds amazing artists and the physical copies of his stuff is well worth leaving on a coffee table for the reaction alone.  If this was written my a third party, I might have opted in for the PDFs only.

Some Words of Wisdom From the Deadlands Reloaded: Marshal's Handbook

Ever read something and go "these words of wisdom are something everyone should read?"  Well, I've been reading through the Deadlands Reloaded: Marshall's Handbook (review will be forth coming) and I had one of those moments.

The advice given can be applied to any game, assuming you trust you GM to be able to follow them.

You  might  be  wondering  about  the difficulty of  the encounters listed throughout this book.     Are     they intended    for    characters    of    Novice Rank? Seasoned?
The answer is none of the above. The encounters  are  created  to  reflect  the natural  (or  in  some  cases  unnatural) organization of the characters or creatures listed.  That means your group had best be warned that this isn’t like certain other games that automatically set  the  challenge  level  to  something they  can  deal    with.    Sometimes  a horrific  abomination  simply  needs  to be avoided,  or  clever  tactics  or  hired guns employed to defeat it.
We  do  this  both  because  it’s  more natural  and  it’s  more  of  a  challenge. Besides,  any  system  we  create  would have a difficult time fitting the nature of  your  posse.  If  a  big  game  hunter hires on a squad of expert riflemen to cover  his  back,  it  doesn’t  make  sense hat  suddenly  every  rattler  has  four buddies as well. That means that just as with a larger party is safer (though it might not fit your posse’s plans to keep a low profile). Of course, it also means the heroes have to feed the Extras and provide food,   water,   and   ammo   for them as well. And don’t forget some of these apples are no doubt rotten.
All   that   said,   the   Marshal   should tweak  encounters  to  fit  the  nature  of his party. You’ll have a good handle on what your party can manage after a few sessions,  without  the  need  for  some sort of formula.

Almost seems like sandbox style game advice.  No charts to balance encounters, no CR ratings.  What is a GM to do?

Do what we always did before the charts and CRs were added.  Follow you gut and make the game fun.

This Game Starts At Level Three...

Don't Touch Anything Kiddies - We Will Hold Your Hands Until Level 3
The Rest of You Can Cut the Line and Skip the First 2 Levels
One of Rodney Thompson's comments from the last Rules of Three that I covered (not the last Rules Of Three that was published, as I am apparently a bit out of order) has been bouncing around in my head the last few days, and not because I like it:
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.  Experienced players could simply start at 3rd level if they want to leap right into a more advanced starting experience.
Now, excuse my vulgarities, but why the fuck would I want to shorten my long term campaign experience by wiping the first 2 levels of play off my plate before the game even starts?  Does WotC think most of their players in 5e are going to be new players to the hobby, let alone D&D?

If 4e was WotC attempt to make a table top RPG play more like a MMORPG, is D&D 5e going to be like children's sports these days, where it gets dumbed down to the lowest common denominator and everyone gets a trophy?

Are levels 1 and 2 now the same as Zero Level Characters?

That's an idea.  That concept of "Zero Level" PCs that was thrown around in a different question, why don't you use THAT to introduce new players.  Include a hand holding "Mini-Campaign" that takes them from Level 0-B to 0-A to level 1.  Bingo!  Newbies get the hand holding they need and some extra in game play so that when they hit level 1, they are on the same level playing field as everyone else.

Look at that... a solution to the "skip these levels if they are too simple for you" concept.

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