Saturday, May 5, 2012

Organized Disorganziation

Like I tell me wife, there is a method to the mess on my desk, both home and at work.  It might appear to be random, but there is a method to the madness, usually.

This time, with my ACKS campaign that kicks off in just over 4 hrs, I want to try something different.  I want to be organized.  Well, let me qualify that.  Organized for me, which would still be a horrible chaos curse for many.

I need to consolidate my house rules, which are currently on different G+ threads.  I'll drop them into a pdf and post it... somewhere.

I need to keep my crap together in one place, especially as I am printing out stuff for use.  Thank God I have those Brave Halfling boxes... gonna be used today.

I wonder if i can get The Keep to run on my Mac?  need to give it a try.

Knowing me, I'll be making many hand written notes that I'll need to organize later.

Probably no more updates today, but I'll give a campaign update tomorrow if all goes well.  If it doesn't go well, I'm sure the update will be even more entertaining than otherwise ;)

Games From the Attic - The STAR WARS Sourcebook

I guess I should have posted this with all of the May the Fourth posts marking the 35th anniversary of Star Wars.  Story of my life, a day late and a dollar short.

Here's the kicker - I didn't even know I owned this until I pulled it out of the pile about 10 minutes ago.  From 1987 (the 10th anniversary of Star Wars, as indicated on the back cover) the book is in great shape, except for some slight warping.  I may need to put it under a proper pile of books to straighten in out.

Lots of pictures, lots of background info and minimal game stats, this would have been something that would have found it's way to any Star Wars fan's collection.  I never even know I had it.  Go figure.

It looks like a great read.  I may have to do more than just flip through it.  I may actually want to give this a good read, in honor of 35 years of Star Wars.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Final Preparation Before Opening the Sandbox

My new ACKS campaign kicks off tomorrow.  Needless to say, I keep on changing things up, trying to prepare myself for my players zigging when I'm prepared for a zag.

Then I realized... I don't have a starting location.  I have the immediate sandbox, I had the larger sandbox, lots of stuff for the sandbox to keep the players busy, but I didn't have a sizable town for them to start in.  What's a poor DM to do?

Dark Times in Brighton.  Actually printed it out double sided and stapled it together.  All proper like.  Did the same with some short 2 and 3 page adventures / locations /etc.

Not sure how much I'll use from Dark Times in Brighton besides the town, but there's enough to keep the party occupied for a bit as they find out about other hooks. Every trip, even in a sandbox, requires a starting point.  Now i have one :)

The Manor Issue #1 is on Sale (OSR Zine)

Tim from Gothridge Manor has released the first issue of his new zine, The Manor, today.  You can order the hard copy at his blog, or the PDF version at RPGNow.

I've already grabbed the PDF version, at it looks good at first glance, but I have other things occupying my time so far tonight.  I'll give it a proper review when I get to read it.  That being said, Tim's a good writer, so I expect only the best from him ;)

Games From the Basement - The Palladium Role-Playing Game (revised)

The Palladium Role-Playing Game was my one of my earlier non-D&D Fantasy RPGs (WFRP, MERP and Runequest II were the others).  Palladium RPG seemed to stick pretty close to D&D to my eyes, what with levels, hit points, classes, races - but it took everything up a notch.

It wan't the prettiest game in my collection at the time, but i found that there was always something I could steal from Palladium for D&D - Wolfen NPCs, Insanity Tables, alignment definitions - for an imperfect game, there was one heck of a lot of good stuff in this book (and the later source books).

I have a signed copy of the 2nd edition somewhere, to go along with my first print signed at GenCon RIFTS rpg.  Yep, lots of awesomely broken games from Palladium in my collection, including Recon and Mechanoids.  I just need to refind them ;)

Movie Review - The Avengers

Can I make this simple and to the point?

You'll laugh, you'll cry (and laugh), cheer, and laugh some more.

I drank a large (movie sized) soda and never once got up to pee.  There was no time to do so.  The movie MOVES constantly.

My one complaint:  Why is every NYC cop portrayed in movies as some late 1950's Brooklynite?  "Ey!  I'm talkin' ta youse!"  Sorry, I don't talk that way, 99% of my fellow officers don't talk that way, but the one talking scene with a NYPD Sergeant sounds like it's cribbed from a B&W movie I'd catch on AMC.

Yep, my only complaint.

As usual with the Marvel Movies these days, you need to sit through the credits.  So sit, don't fucking stand in front of your seats as the rest of us are fucking sitting as were watching the credits scroll by so we can catch the two epilogue easter eggs thrown in.  Sit, read some emails or send some texts on your phone, but just please sit!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Off to See The Avengers on the Morrow

Took off from work tomorrow, as I have things to do around the house and want to read up on some stuff in preparation for the kick off of my ACKS campaign this Saturday Night.

I mentioned I was off to a friend at work, who said he was also off, so he could catch the opening of The Avengers movie.  Yep, there are geeks and gamers on every job, every type of occupation ;)

Next thing I know,we have tickets to see it in IMAX 3D at 0930 in the morning.  Leaving me plenty of time for the other stuff I need to do later on.

I'll give you my review sometime tomorrow.

Frog God Goes Kickstarter - Rappan Athuk for S&W (and Pathfinder too)

Kickstarter is THE thing these days for RPG project funding & support.  If you have a good product that might be difficult to fund at the quality level you want, Kickstarter give you the tools to do it.

I got Frog God's email at 5:28 PM this afternoon, and when I clicked the link it was already supported at over $6k.  It is now 8:30 PM as I write this, and it's over $17K  18k  With 59 days to go.

"Holy shit!" does not come close to telling the story here.

Kickstarter and Indigogo have breathed new life into our hobby.  ACKS, LotFP Adventures, Dwimmermount, Barrowmaze, Myth & Magic, C&C Classic Monsters, OGRE - the list does not stop.

It is, as they say, a beautiful time to be a part of this. :)

Oh, and it can be expensive too.  Ouch!

Some Quick Thoughts on the Roll20 Virtual Table Top

As a Kickstarter supporter of the Roll20 VTT, I got my Beta invite yesterday and got to spend some time with the interface. It has a lot of potential, it has handful of quirks, and as I had to remind myself, it's still in beta.

It is beyond simple to add tokens and maps to the interface. Just type a search term into the search box (I used "kobold" and it comes back with a bunch of tokens you can grab from the net. Drag it and drop it onto the map area and you're done (unless you want to resize or such).

The same can be done with maps. It searches online directories with free gaming maps, and again, it's as simple as drag and drop. Then comes the map resizing, and the first quirk.

The few maps I dragged and dropped did not fit the default "map space" or whatever it is called. They weren't all that huge, maybe 12-15 rooms and corridors, but I couldn't enlarge them to the point that their grid matched the size of the VTT grid. That is going to be an issue, and one I assume will be addressed at some point in the beta,as I am sure it's not just an issue for me.

Another quirk / issue is with the marker for the maps. I like using whiteboards and markers for my campaigns to do a quick and dirty diagram / map of what the players see. With Roll20, the moment I release the mouse button as I'm using the marker, the pointer resets to no longer be a marker. So, back to the interface, click on the marker in the menu, draw another line - rinse and repeat. I'll be bringing this up on the forums, as this is more of an issue in my mind than the map issue. It's almost a game breaker. It's possible I'm missing a solution, and if so I'll post it if / when found.

Tabs for the different "boards" or maps is a great way to bounce back and forth between locations. Spot on.

I haven't tried the music / sound effects yet, not have i had a player log in yet to check the video / voice.

I'm just trying to feel Roll 20 out at the moment

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Looks at the Latest Rule of Three - Feats, Skills and Monsters With Class

Fairy short set of answers in the latest Rule of Three question and answer posting.  Lets take a peek, shall we?

Original article is here

     Are themes just feat packages or is there more to them? What can we expect from feats for D&D Next—is it going to be what we're used to or are you spicing them up a bit?

The design right now delivers feats through themes—so yes, themes are the delivery device, just as themes in Dark Sun are a delivery device for some powers. (Interesting that they say "right now".  I guess there is still a hell of a lot of flux going on with D&D Next) Themes also do something great for character creation in that they really flesh out the story of your character and your character's place in the larger world. We've found (during the internal and expanded playtesting we've already done) that even experienced players enjoy that aspect of the themes, including when building their own theme feat-by-feat. (So, we no longer choose our own feats, but pick a theme?  I guess they are drawing from older editions - AD&D 2e and the Complete Handbook Series.  Hopefully themes have a better sense of balance)

As for feats, we want them to have a significant impact on how your character plays. We also want feats to allow some complexity customization (this is where we play with different editions in 5e i guess.  It's all in the feats). If you want to play a simple, streamlined character, we want to provide plenty of simple, streamlined feats for you to use. If you want a complex character, take complex feats. (I'm confused.  If the streamlined and complex feats are equal in power, why bother with the complex feats?  Flavor?  4e characters are more powerful than 3e characters, who are more powerful that 2e, and so on and so on.  If simple and complex are going to be equal, then you are going to have some disappointed players of later editions) Either way, we want you to feel like taking a feat really affects the way your character plays.

      If all characters can pick skills through backgrounds or just by cherry-picking what they want, is being the "skill monkey" no longer the rogue's thing?

We like the idea of rogues and skills being tied together as an aspect of the rogue's identity (but not the totality of that identity). (errr, o-kay.  so, rogues get skills, everyone gets skills.  so why be a rogue?)  Right now, we're experimenting with giving the rogue extra skills (but in 3e didn't rogues get like double or more the skill of the other classes?), on top of those that everyone gains, as a way to express that aspect of the class; we may also give the rogue some exclusive skills or skill-like abilities, but that is something we're still working on.  (does this mean every class can open locks, disarm traps, pick pockets and the like?  because that really is the rogue / thief niche, and to remove it removes a major reason to play the class)

      What other monster advancing ideas are you playing with beyond leveling them up with class levels?

Truthfully, we're not far enough into the game's design cycle to put too much work into monster advancement; up to this point, we've been more focused on creating the base versions of the monsters, making sure they work, etc. That said, I think we'd like to have many methods of advancing and altering monsters. Personally, I loved the idea behind templates from 3rd Edition, and really like the way we handle monster themes in 4E as a method of tinkering (please no minions and bosses bullshit.  if i wanted that I'll go back to MMORPGs). It's also pretty easy to just have rules for scaling up a monster's raw numbers.  Ideally, we're going to have a broad spectrum of ways for DMs to modify and scale up monsters, letting the DM choose his or her preferred method. (this "everything and the kitchen sink" method of building an RPG really scares me.  Do we really need multiple methods to tweak monsters?  multiple methods of gameplay?  of playing the classes?)

Which is More Important in Game Design - Player Wants or Player Needs?

After reading Monte's recent post on game design, he puts a heck of a lot of weight on the "wants" of players, then uses an example where game designers listen to the players and make a correction with a tweak.

The players in Monte's example did not get what they wanted (in this case, a faster reload time that would have been unbalancing and unrealistic) but got a tweak to the reload animation that did not change reload time. They got what they needed, not what they wanted.

Players want lots of stuff they don't need. They buy splat books with new classes, feats and the like because they want it. The splat books do serve a need - the need of WotC to bring in revenue. Which works until the game system gets crushed beneath the weight of the splats.

Which is why I'm very wary when game designers say they are designing games based upon what players "want". Designers need to look deeper, and find out what players really "need" in their games. I know the answer isn't as simple as it sounds, but it's the only way to make a game with lasting success in my opinion.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Looks at Monte Cook's Latest - Designing Sometimes Means Listening

 Hey, like I said, I do requests.  This one was a specific request, so lets dig right in.

Designing Sometimes Means Listening

Not too long ago, I wrote an article called We Want What We Want. In it, I talked about how in all games, what the player wants is more important than what the game's designer wants to give him (I hope we aren't confusing "needs" and "wants".  Just because I want something, doesn't mean I should get it, or that is fills a need). A game designer can create the best game in the world, with the most elegant mechanics, but if it isn't what player wants to play, it's little more than an interesting curiosity. (yep, lots of Heartbreakers out there in the wilds)

One of the best things about tabletop rpgs is the ability for a GM and the players to change the way the game is played, tailoring it to their needs (Houserules for the win.  Shit, I aint even a tad grumpy yet). I started mucking around with the rules for D&D at a very early age myself, changing bits that I didn't like, grafting on parts of other games, and wholesale rewriting portions. (Not surprisingly, this quickly led to my writing of entirely new games on my own, but that's another story.) I think that's integral to the hobby. (I'd have to agree)
Which means, ultimately, that a good game's design starts with an examination of what players want (which is no easy task, as you can ask any 10 players and get 10 different lists of "wants".  you have to give them what they "need", although that is sometimes even harder to figure out). When I started designing games professionally 25 years ago, that information was difficult to get. Now, it's much easier. (I hesitate to say that it's easy, but the challenges of doing so are probably best left to another post as well). Designers come up with interesting ideas for mechanics all the time, but if they don't address the needs of the players, what's the point?

Designers do players a huge favor by giving them a game that comes out of a knowledge of what the players want. (hey, I may want to play "uber powered" pcs right from the start, but is it what I really need?  will it lead to sustained gameplay?) But there's more. Knowing that players are going to tinker anyway, why not provide them with a game that is easily customizable (aha!  D&D Next - The Chinese Restaurant Menu Game - I'll take one from column A and number six from column B.  Can I get that with brown rice, and a soup instead of the egg roll?)? If the designer learns that some gamers like a game that does something one way, and others like it a different way, why not give them a game that can do both? (are the different ways compatible?  balanced?  is there a reason the ways are different in the first place?) The thing about roleplaying games is that whatever way you want to play is the right way (fair enough). As soon as an rpg game designer says, "this is the way to play this game," or even, "this is the best way to play this game," my advice would be to run and hide. (i'm not so sure about that)
Listening to players is key. Playtesting and truly using the feedback provided ensures that gamers get the game they want (again I question the use of the word "want" as opposed to "need"), and not just something that designers want to give them. That doesn't mean, however, that players design the game. (thank God, because releasing a 20% completed game into the wilds for "feedback" sure seems like someone wants the players to design the damn game)That's the part where the designer really has to be a good listener. There's an interesting story about the game designers who designed the computer/console game Borderlands. Playtester feedback for the game was used extensively (which shows--it's a great game). But sometimes the playtesters gave bad feedback (what?  NEVER!). Or at least, feedback that called for changes that would have been bad for the game. For example, playtesters said that when a character's gun needed to be reloaded that it needed to go a lot faster. The game's designers knew that the reload was already really fast. Speeding it up would not only hurt realism, but gameplay as well. But they didn't dismiss the issue. Instead, they looked at the reason for why the testers said what the did. Reloading wasn't actually too slow. It was just too boring. So rather than speed it up, the designers added a lot more to the animation of the action. They made it look and feel (and sound) more interesting. Subsequent playtests showed that players loved it, and the complaints on reloading went away.  (Interesting.  The players got what the "needed" and not what they "wanted".  Monte knows, and he left the design team.  It says a lot about Monte, and it probably says a lot about why he left)

The point is, the designers didn't just allow playtesters to design the game for them, but they still listened and learned from them. The playtesters called for a change that wasn't a good idea, but in so doing they still pointed out a problem. And the designers listened. The game players got what they wanted.  (No Monte, they got what they needed.  Sigh, you were so close ;)
EDIT: This post is one of many I'll be posting about my game design philosophy (a sort of informal "series" I started many weeks ago) and is not meant to be an indictment on anyone else's approach, philosophy, or plans. It's also not a secret revelation of any kind of behind the scenes drama or whatever. (For those looking for such, there is none to find, I'm afraid.) It's just my own thoughts.

Tuesday is Sales Day! Castles & Crusades and More

Some quick "Player Service Announcements":

The Trolls are running a sale at RPGNow -
Holy Carolina! We are very happy to see the full release, print and pdf, of Classic Monsters! This book is blasting off the shelf...digital and physical. To celebrate and give everyone a chance to see what Castles and Crusades is all about we are launching a limited 30% off sale on the digital copies of the two core books: The Players Handbook and Monsters and Treasure. To boot we are dropping all adventure prices by 75%! (S2 - Dwarven Glory is $1.02, S4 Lion in the Ropes is $.99 - at these prices you can easily convert the adventures to other OSR systems if you want to)  This is a limited time offer so be sure to get yours today!
 Castles & Crusades is the Rosetta stone of RPGS. With its easy to use Siege Engine you'll see why the edition wars are meaningless as C&C offers you the game you want to play! Its bare knuckles role playing at its best!

But wait!  There's more!  Occult Moon has dropped the price on OSS:  The Forgotten Outpost to $2.99
In the hills around the city of Bear's Paw lies a long forgotten outpost that has fallen into ruins. There are many legends told about this hidden landmark, and rumors of treasures lying inside are told around warm fires. Many have made their way into the dark underbelly of this stony memorial seeking fortune and glory, but none have ever returned.  Will you be the first adventurers to uncover the secrets buried there?
Be prepared for a fight as you embark on this adventure to uncover the truth behind the legends. Kobolds, gnolls, traps, and secrets lay in wait for you in this dungeon crawl into The Forgotten Outpost! Adventure suitable for adventurers level 3 to 5 ish for what ever Old School Sh*t you play.
Edit:  LotFP has some "scuffed" specials going on at the moment: (thanks to Conner Uber on G+)

WF Grindhouse Edition is 20 euro (with free PDF), down from 32.50 euro  (I've said it before and I'll say it again, the LotFP WF Referee book is probably worth the price of admission alone - everything else is a bonus).
Carcosa is also 20 euro scuffed, down from 32 euro

Alright, back to regular posting.  The Grumpy Dwarf is already cracking his knuckles ;)

Slightly Tainted Ideas

I spoke at length with Michael Garcia of Occult Moon Games yesterday. Nope, it wasn't an interview (that's something I've yet to do on this blog. I'd have to "unlearn" some of my job training to make sure it was an interview and not an interrogation ;) Just two guys bouncing some thoughts off of each other.

One thing that did come up was the idea of running a "dark" or "chaos tinged" adventure(s). We weren't talking Lovecraft or Carcosa. Heck, I don't even think we were thinking Warhammer Fantasy Role Play (I'm a 1st edition fan, Mike is a 2nd edition fan, neither of us liked 3rd edition).

I guess the closest that I can think of that would fit my definition would be some of the stuff put out by James Raggi. More psychological than over the top, more hinted at than reveled. James does that well, except his default setting / background pretty much does away with the fantasy monsters we know. He throws the demihumans into LotFP's Weird Fantasy to satisfy the folks that would otherwise complain about their omission. It works because the slate he works off of is cleared of most fantasy tropes, all monsters are fairly unique, mysterious and dangerous.

So, can you write, let alone run, an effective classic fantasy adventure with a dark tint to it? Can you evoke some of those feelings of dread within the usual tropes of a D&D styled roleplaying system? Do you need to remove standard and classic D&D monsters from the palate?

Does this only work in a "low magic" campaign?

Can this style of adventure work in Greyhawk, The Forgotten Realms or Blackmarsh? A campaign that includes "mega-dungeons" and the like?

At which point do you break the spell? What is considered too much, or too dark, or not dark enough? Is less more?

These are questions I find bouncing around my head today. This is the challenge I've wandered blindly into. Once I start answering these questions I'll be that much closer to deciding if this is something I want to work into my campaign.

Apocalyptic Thoughts

Last night was another nite of Arcane Apocalypse, Charles Jaimet's hack of Apocalypse World into something more suitable for fantasy. It really is a blast, and when Charles releases his baby into the wild (I don't believe it has been yet) you do need to grab a copy. As an aside, I found it a much easier read than AW, but that may be partly due to my grounding in the fantasy genre.

Still, just like in AW, Arcane Apocalypse is a world of grey moral choices. Actually, let me rephrase that, it is a grey world full of complicated webs of intrigue, and the deck of life is stacked against those that try to maintain a sense of morality.

Maybe that's why I enjoy the sessions as much as I do. It's easy for your character to be "good", when being good is rewarded. It's much harder to maintain that goal, when being "good" probably isn't to your benefit.

We've had some amazing roleplaying so far, especially as characters try to do what is right (or at least not do what they perceive as wrong) and try to figure out how to survive being caught in a web without sacrificing your fellow players.

Great session lads, even if I was under the influence of heavy meds for my allergies from hell. God, I really hate this spring's wacky weather ;)

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Looks at Mike Mearls' Latest Post - Looking at Fighters

The Grumpy Dwarf here.  Long time poster, first time getting credit for it.   Yadda Yadda. Listen, if you want to know why I tear apart bullshit posts on Dungeons & Dragons from the Wizzies Guys, know this - WotC is putting a version of a game that "isn't close to done" in your hands in less than a month, so you can test it and make it better.  They don't need to hear fuckin' Cheer Bear, they need to know what needs to be fixed in MY opinion.  You want it closer to a game you want to play? Give them YOUR opinion, as often and as loud as you can.  Maybe the powers that be will hear you, but don't bet your gaming fun on it.  - The Grumpy Dwarf

Last week, we announced that the D&D Next playtest will become open to the public on May 24th (aint that a scary thought?  the game, as per WotC is about 20% done, but they are putting it's future in your hands.  I'm no game designer, but if I were, I'd like to be a lot closer to being done before releasing my child into the wild)  This week, I’d like to talk a bit about the overall shape the playtest will take and what we need to get out of it. (lets see, a good game, a working game system, a marketable version of D&D that will let us save a few bodies from the Christmas Reaper that resides at WotC)
The playtest materials will initially consist of the basic core rules and a limited selection of classes and races (no surprise there - we are talking 1/5th of a game, and that fifth is subject to change). We’ll roll out the fighter, cleric, wizard, and rogue, along with the human, elf, dwarf, and halfling. (gnomes get the fuckin' shaft yet again!  I hate gnomes, but I feel for my cousins) In the earliest stages of the test, we’ll provide you with pregenerated characters. (that's a mixed bag.  it means the play test will be balanced, but isn't the point of a play test to find things that aren't in balance?  to "game the game" no, to prevent folks from "gaming the game" late?)
We are intentionally starting small so that we can collect feedback on specific portions of the game (you are starting small because you don't have much for folks to play with yet). To start with, we want the core rules to receive a thorough inspection. Obviously, if the basic rules of playing and DMing the game aren’t working, we need to know that sooner rather than later.the core better fuckin' work at this point, or else they have less than 20% - they have zero %)
As we collect feedback on the core rules, we’ll also release more material for players. We’ll start from a set of pregenerated characters, and then we plan on leveling up those characters to walk everyone through the first ten levels of the game (so if you die, just restart with the same one?  i know it's a beta test of sorts, but it is still a roleplaying experience, and character death and loss is part of that). Once that is done, we’ll then loop back and release material for building your own characters. (i wonder how fast this process will be, and I wonder how many groups are going to run many sessions with pregens)
In general, the playtest will start with the broad and then zero in on the specific. We want to make sure that the game feels right in terms of classes and races (they better not leave gnomes out yet again), ease of play at the table, the level of danger present in the game (which will be hard to evaluate fully with reboot able pregens, but whatever), and the flexibility of basic task resolution. Once we’ve established those baselines, we can start to look at player options, from classes to specific abilities, in more detail. (i'm going to assume the "we" referred to is the players, as if the game designers are part of that "we" and they are waiting on "us" it's going to be a longer process than it should be.)
Depending on the nature of feedback, we hope to maintain a relatively brisk pace of pushing new content out into the wild. (if they can keep to this, may the gods bless them and bear them many bearded children - if nothing else, it will give me post fodder ;)
Why are we going along this path rather than releasing the entire game at once? First of all, the game isn’t close to done. (SEE?  I said it wasn't nearly done, not even a quarter done.  Second, we want to make sure that each part of the game is thoroughly tested. (I can't complain about this in the least.  good call)  Releasing the material in small, controlled doses ensures that the feedback we receive is focused on a few specific areas. (alright, understandable - you don't want a bunch of Grumpy Dwarves swarming you with umpteen complaints and assorted issues at one time.)  It makes both our work and your testing efforts more efficient.
With that in mind, let’s keep talking about what you’re going to see in the upcoming playtest packet. Last week, I wrote about the cleric (oh boy.  yep, that was me last week). This week, it’s the fighter’s turn.

Fighter Design Goals

The fighter is one of my favorite classes, so I’m a little biased. I also think it is a class that has always suffered a bit compared to the spellcasters in the game (I dunno.  wizzies in my campaigns were always squishy and target first by intelligent advisories.  nobody wanted to play the cleric). Fighters represent the most iconic fantasy heroes, and it is perhaps the most popular class in the game (if they are so popular, are they really that week compared to casters?). Therefore, it’s important that we get the fighter right.

You can take a look at last week’s article to get a sense of our general approach to the classes. Here are the main points we’re looking at for the fighter.

1. The Fighter Is the Best at . . . Fighting!

This might sound like an obvious point, but the fighter should be the best character in a fight. Other classes might have nifty tricks, powerful spells, and other abilities, but when it’s time to put down a monster without dying in the process, the fighter should be our best class (hey, I agree with Mike.  Let's all have a beer!). A magic sword might make you better in a fight, but a fighter of the same level is still strictly better. Perhaps a spell such as haste lets you attack more often, but the fighter is still either making more attacks or his or her attacks are more accurate or powerful. (i dunno.  a hasted thief with backstab in the shadows can be an awesome thing)

2. The Fighter Draws on Training and Experience, not Magic

Fighters master mundane tactics and weapon skills. They don’t need spells or some sort of external source of magical power to succeed (somebody mark this down.  fighters won't be having an assortment of magical moves and abilities like they do in 4e.  gods damn but I can breath a sigh of relief now)  Fighters do stuff that is within the limits of mundane mortals. They don’t reverse gravity or shoot beams of energy.  (man, i always wanted my fighters to shoot laser beams!  maybe if i get a wish spell)

3. The Fighter Exists in a World of Myth, Fantasy, and Legend

Keeping in mind the point above, we also have to remember that while the fighter draws on mundane talent, we’re talking about mundane within the context of a mythical, fantasy setting. Beowulf slew Grendel by tearing his arm off. He later killed a dragon almost singlehandedly. Roland slew or gravely injured four hundred Saracens in a single battle. In the world of D&D, a skilled fighter is a one-person army. You can expect fighters to do fairly mundane things with weapons, but with such overwhelming skill that none can hope to stand against them.  (wait, if "none can hope to stand against them" WTF is the point to playing the game?  if you pit two fighters against each other, does it cause a rift in the space / time continuum?  turning undead was too powerful a cleric ability as written, but fighters trump everything?)

4. The Fighter Is Versatile

The fighter is skilled with all weapons. The best archer, jouster, and swordmaster in the realm are all fighters. A monk can match a fighter’s skill when it comes to unarmed combat, and rangers and paladins are near a fighter’s skill level, but the fighter is typically in a class by itself regardless of weapon.  (okay, i'll accept that.  so, fighters don't specialize in combat type.  they are generalists.  which works, because even if they used a spiked dildo, "none can hope to stand against them".  Not that they could find a spiked dildo in most campaigns, but it's just such a disturbing image, I had to keep it)

5. The Fighter Is the Toughest Character

The fighter gets the most hit points and is the most resilient character. A fighter’s skill extends to defense, allowing the class to wear the heaviest armor and use the best shields. The fighter’s many hit points and high AC renders many monsters’ attacks powerless (wait!  we aren't saying "less effective against fighters compared to other classes", instead we are told "renders many monsters attacks powerless" as well as "none can stand against them".  Mike, if you turn the fighter up to 11, then you have to turn the other classes up to 11 and we get 4e all over again just with tape over the serial numbers)

6. A High-Level Fighter and a High-Level Wizard Are Equal

Too often in D&D, the high-level fighter is the flunky to a high-level wizard. (again, I haven't personally seen this issue, but it's probably because all of our whizzies were terrified of dying real fast) It’s all too easy for combinations of spells to make the wizard a far more potent enemy or character, especially if a wizard can unleash his or her spells in rapid succession. (and then the survivors kill the wizzie with a blow or two - assuming the fighter failed his saves and doesn't kill the wizzie himself)  A wizard might annihilate a small army of orcs with a volley of fireballs and cones of cold. The fighter does the same sword blow by sword blow, taking down waves of orcs each round (if the orcs are dumb enough to throw themselves in waves at the fighter round after round.  wait!  what about the overbearing rules.  there are overbearing  rules, aren't there?). Balancing the classes at high levels is perhaps the highest priority for the fighter, and attaining balance is something that we must do to make D&D fit in with fantasy, myth, and legend. (how about we fit the new new D&D into D&D.  D&D has it's own tropes)  Even if a wizard unleashes every spell at his or her disposal at a fighter, the fighter absorbs the punishment, throws off the effects, and keeps on fighting.  (so, whizzes can't kill a fighter?  but a fighter can kill a wizzie?  this balance shit is getting confusing as hell, as I fail to see the balance)

Sandbox Thoughts - There is no Grid in My Sandbox

That's right, there is no grid in my sandbox styled campaign, at least not how one is used in 3.5 and especially 4e D&D.

There is a reason Adventure Paths are popular with the 4e crowd (and started with the 3x crowd)- the adventures usually come with battle maps or tiles.

3.5e is nearly impossible to play with out a grid, and the amount of house ruling it would take to remove the grid from 4e would make it a totally different game (5e perhaps?).

It's hard to run a gridded game with a sandbox. Sure, you can use a battle mat and write it in washable marker, or maybe pull a map from your collection that you've used before that kinda fits the location, but it's not a great solution. Heck, you could map out battle maps for all of your possible random encounters, but then when would you have time to game?

Did anyone use a grid with G1-3? T1-4 (TOEE). None that I know did more than a sketch and a room description

That is why sandbox style play is very much "Old School", where counting hexes and spell templates are replaced by a quick description or sketch and the Theatre of the Mind.

Not that I have a total aversion to using a battle mat / map if it helps sort things out. I just don't want my players, my campaign, or myself being a slave to it.

The moment players start counting, measuring, checking facing or asking about spell area effect templates I know the map has gone from imagery to grid.

There is no room for a grid in my sandbox, but a map, mat, whiteboard and the like are welcome. Even if it has little hexes or squares on it. Just don't treat it as a grid.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sandbox Thoughts - Staring Into the White

Back in my first gaming life (1980 -1997) I don't ever recall calling "sandbox" styled play a sandbox.  The first time you went "sandbox" is when your players zigged instead of zagged, and for the first time you didn't try to shoehorn them into what you had planned for them, but instead rolled with it.

Surprisingly it was empowering, both for the players and for me.  It validated the idea that their decisions actually mattered.  As for me, it allowed the campaign world to take on more of my ideas, as well as keeping me challenged (and preventing me from becoming a lazy DM).

I would weave adventures, mostly from Dungeon Magazine, but occasionally any random adventure released by TSR directly, with lots of sandbox style freedom.  Still, that sandbox styled freedom came with a price:  Preparation and improvisation.  The improvisation I was daily good at at.  Preparation, much less so, especially when you have no idea which way the players are going to zig, zag and / or jump.  There is nothing like staring into the white of a blank sheet of paper and realizing your friends want to play D&D, and you just got caught with your pants down.

Regretfully, my best tool for this style of sandbox play wasn't released until 1994.  Decks 1 and 2 of the Decks of Encounter Series are made for sandbox styled play.  These 3x5 index card sized cards allow for a DM to prepare (read) a number of possible encounters to keep the party on their toes (and keep the game from bogging down).  I always had something ready, no matter which way the players went.

Prior to the encounter deck, I had a listing of encounter ideas - generally two to three lines on a page of notebook paper, giving me an encounter or adventure seed.  Haven't found this yet while going thru the basement, and at this point i expect I won't.  Still, it was something I kept with me at work, or on a weekend in the Poconos, jotting down stuff as it occurred and using it later if the situation suited it.

Oh, and I also thru in lots of "dungeon bait".  The players knew that adventure and money generally came from the dungeons.  When I needed a change of pace, with less yap and more dice, I gave them rumors of a newly found / re-found / magically appearing / re-opened dungeon.

I'm actually going thru set one of the Deck of Encounters tonight, grabbing cards that may work well (or barely at all, won't know until the time comes) in this coming Saturday's ACKS game kick off.  Well, maybe not the kick off, as I firmly believe you need something fairly set to get a campaign successfully launched, but the cards will be very useful in the weeks to come.

Games From the Basement - Ace of Aces

Remember those Lost Worlds books?  The ones where you and another player picked moves and then looked up the results (with illustration?).  Ace of Aces is similar, but in this case it goes to "Eleven".

These aren't small booklets with a few dozen pages and some hand drawn illustrations.  These feel like they are numberless (they aren't, but they feel that huge) pages of illustrations and photos showing your latest maneuver.  This isn't swords and axes, but a pair of World War 1 fighter planes going head to head in a duel to the death.

If you enjoyed the Lost Worlds books, you may enjoy Ace of Aces.  I say may, because A) it isn'tfantasy, obviously and B) it is much more complex, which kinda turned my group off to it.

It also suffered from the same problem the Lost Worlds series of books suffered from - it's a two player game, no more, no less.  Gaming groups are built around 3 to 6 (or more) players, so this type of game already has a limited audience to aim for.

I believe we gave it a shot or two.  I don't think we ever played a session to completion.  Still, the box art is awesome if you ask me :)
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