Saturday, May 12, 2012

Some Further Thoughts on The Abstract Battle Map

I'm not so sure if the Ancient Odysseys Conflict Action Map works perfectly as is for D&D and all of it's offspring, but it does plant the seed for a compromise between the Battle Grid and the Theatre of the Mind world views on running combat encounters.

My feeling is that the CAM as presented doesn't offer the GM enough options for adversary placement.  This could be addressed by moving the enemies in combat to the lower edge of The Enemy section, leaving those not engaged or using missile / spells in the middle of The Enemy section and moving any engaged in a backstab styled attack on the right side of the section.  I'd reserve the top of The Enemy section for enemies that are engage with PCs attacking from advantage.

Still, I think there is an OSR styled CAM residing in the mind of one of the readers of this post that would address the needs of a D&D styled game and still maintain the simplicity of the Ancient Odysseys Conflict Action Map.

Any up for the challenge?  ;)

Delving Into Ancient Odysseys For an Abstract Battle Map

I'm beginning to wonder if an abstract "Battle Map" works best for a D&D type game.  To the left is the Conflict Action Map from the Ancient Odysseys RPG.

AO is a fairly simple game, which can be played with a GM, w/o a GM or even solo, although I expect it would shine fairly well with a GM, especially as a pick up game or a con game (or even a pick up game via G+ Hangout).  It isn't deep enough for me to want to run it as a long term campaign, but it's got more than enough meat for a couple of game sessions.

What I really like about Ancient Odysseys is the Combat Action Map.  It breaks things down into "zones".

Closest are the front line, they engage the enemy in melee.

Farthest are those using missile weapons, spells or having a desire to be in the back and avoid things.

Sneaking is for "sneaking".  This is for the characters looking to put themselves behind their adversaries.  You move from Sneaking to Behind.

Behind is for characters positioned for backstabbing or whatever your system calls it.

This should work both in a face to face game session and a virtual (online) game session.  It gives characters an idea where they are in relation to their enemies.  It would still really more on Theatre of the Mind than a true battle map, but I don't see anything wrong with that.

Abstract, yet defined.

I may try this out on my ACKS group in the coming weeks.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Looks at Bruce Cordel's Goblins

Goblins Care Only About Your Axe (original article here)

I’ve played a lot of D&D lately (as Bruce works at WotC, i expect he plays a lot of D&D all of the time). But even when using rules prone to design iteration (in other words, different D&D Next versions), one thing has remained constant throughout: When I swing my axe at a goblin neck, the goblin’s going down if I hit. (goblins used to have 1d6+1 hd - they should survive an axe swing just about half the time - unless they are 1HP minions like in 4e - now thats a thought)
That’s true whether the fight occurs in the theater of the mind (TotM), in TotM with the aid of scratch paper to show general position (my preferred method, also know as a Whiteboard when using a VTT), in a hybrid TotM-minis system, or with minis on a grid.

As was pointed out by my previous blog about the grid vs. imagination and the discussions it engendered, the system surrounding my goblin combat can dramatically change many other elements of the fight. The foremost difference is the amount of table time the fight takes to resolve overall, and the amount of tactical decision-making the environment provides my axe-wielding goblin killer. (more detail  = more time needed)
The tension between these two elements is real, and it can’t be swept under the rug. Narratively speaking, sometimes it’s simply too much effort to break out the minis and gridded terrain map to deal with two goblin guards at a cave mouth (maybe, but I suspect there are some 4e players that will call "foul!" if the DM refuses to do just that). The “story” of the situation isn’t really about tactics, unless the DM specifically changes the encounter to make it so (again, 4e is all about tactics - does this mean that 5e is going to put less of an emphasis on tactics?). Indeed, two guards at a doorway (and other “low power” encounters) are precisely the sort of encounters that grid-only combat tends to weed out of the game. (interesting observation.  i didn't realize 4e did away with smaller encounters.  damn shame.  i weep for my 4e brothers and sisters) Because the DM and adventure designer know it’s not worth the effort to break out minis for a simple interaction with two goblin guards (or even five goblin guards), the encounter either goes away entirely, or it faces pressure to become part of some other, larger encounter. (because more is always better?) This means that players, when they see minis on the table, always know it’s going to be some kind of fight, regardless of anything else. (you know, this is an extremely valid point, more so that anything else that has been said thus far.  miniatures being set on a battle-grid really do take away the suspense)

Other times, the story is about tactics. I do want to exactly know where the vampire lord is in relation to the acid pit, the windows through which afternoon sunlight slashes, the vampire’s dominated spell-casting thralls, and her various spawn slinking through an advancing line of rolling mist. Pushing or being pushed 5 feet (does anyone realize how far 5' is in real life?  that's one heck of a push)  can make the difference between winning and losing this fight, depending on whether I’ve been pushed into the acid, or if I can push the vampire into the sunlight.  (here's the big bull shit fallacy about battle grids.  if this was a real life fight to the finish, all you would see is your immediate surroundings - you wouldn't have the time to figure out complicated moves to push the vamp into a sliver of sunlight.  You don't see a whole 60'x40' room, 360 degrees around you and make your choices.  in TotM, you could tell the DM what you want to accomplish, he tells you what you need to roll to accomplishsuch (if it can be accomplished)and it's done.  Yep, it's that evil DM Fiat.  But hey, whatever floats your stone boat down the Halls of the Latest D&D)

Based on the poll we conducted on my last grid-focused blog (holy fucking shit!  hey, is there anything they won't do a poll on at WotC?  how about a poll on picking corn kernels from shit?  wait, that might have been done already), a majority of you agrees that different encounters have different needs when it comes to encounter rules. That’s cool, because we feel the same way. (i bet everyone feels like their concerns are validated now) Assuming we move forward with this line of thinking, we’ll end up with a core conflict resolution system that can encompass both TotM and the grid. Imagine a combat system not too different from previous editions that relied almost solely on the use of the grid, but tweaked so that it works seamlessly (this word carries a hell of a lot of weight) for those fights where minis are not used or expected.

This means, to answer one line of questions raised in the grid discussions, that switching between TotM and the grid must be easy and seamless, both for groups that prefer to switch between modes, and for groups who want to primarily stick to one or the other conflict resolution system. It’s not our job to pick a winner or loser in any sort of false “grid vs. TotM” contest, and thereby create a sub-group of D&D players who don’t have the rules support they deserve. Instead, it’s our job to create a straightforward environment where both styles of play prosper and can be used.  (good luck... remember, the grid plays havoc with the "one hour game session" goal.  see, that's part of the problem with D&D Doppleganger - each added goal conflicts with a previously stated goal)

For instance, if a fighter uses an ability that seems to make sense on the grid, we should design that same ability to also be useful in the TotM. (notice Bruce doesn't say "have the same effect, or just as effective", just that it be useful)  In a fight that takes place next to a curtain of green slime (can you actually HAVE a curtain of green slime?  i'm very curious.  how about a table cloth of green slime, or maybe even coasters?), even in TotM, it’s not as important how far I can push a foe with an ability as it is important that I can push a foe at all (kinda goes with my "do you have any idea how far a 5' push is in real life?"). If my “hack and shove maneuver” results in the goblin stumbling backward, then, regardless of distance in feet or whether this happens on the grid or in the players’ imaginations, the goblin has just discovered that green slime is not its friend. (i thought the whole point of this article was about axes? ;)

A Town By Any Other Name...

Greg Christopher has a thread on G+ asking for folks to throw out ideas for a the name of a town that sits on a hill over a dungeon. It got me thinking, Google has a perfect tool for naming places in your fantasy world - It's the Google Translate Tool at translate.google.com

Personally, I think German makes for some decent sounding location names (this coming from my perspective as a German-American Mutt - YMMV).

Hill Dungeon becomes - Hugel Verlies or shortened to Ver Hugel.

Crag Stone Dungeon becomes - Felsen Stein Verlies, which I can shorten to Felstein Verlies or maybe Ver Felstein.

Sounds much better than a bunch of made up crap ;)

Thanks Greg for kickstarting my brain!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Interesting Post By Monte Cook at His Blog

Yes, I've been accused of reading between the lines and reading into stuff things that might no bethere.  I (or rather, Grumpy) have been told I always assume the worst when looking at WotC's latest postings about D&D Next.

So, I'm not going to read between the lines of this one.  Or rather, even if I am, I'll keep the thoughts to myself for now.

You can read Monte's full post here.

I'm just going to quote two parts that stick out to me.  I'll leave the commenting to others.

But overinflated egos can be a real problem in creative industries. Not only does it make one insufferable to be around, it's detrimental to one's interaction with the people one is actually creating for. It turns people away.
I find it difficult to navigate in a world surrounded by massive egos. I and my peers--whether it be in game design or fiction writing--are  at best big fish in ridiculously small ponds. In the past, I have tried to remind them of that, but it hardly wins me friends, let me tell you. So now I keep it to myself. Ego and who is "deserving" of it, ultimately, is all a matter of perspective. Unless you've saved a billion lives, maybe, keep some humility. 

How Do I Determine If I'm Running a Successful Campaign?

How do I know I kicked off a fairly successful ACKS Campaign last Saturday night?

It wasn't just the bouts of laughter the players got from me during game play.

I wasn't just the great role playing I witnessed.

It isn't just the the numerous G+ threads we have about the game.

It isn't just the awesome character write-ups and recaps my players have posted on the Obsidian Portal site.

No, last night was the kicker, as my players asked - no, more precisely demanded, that I log into a G+ Hangout so the mage in the party could roll against his Magical Engineering proficiency to determine the nature of the magical ring they found. My protest that i was shirtless and in my underwear as I was getting ready for bed fell on deaf ears.

Successful roll by the mage. +1 Ring of Protection, 5' Radius was revealed to the party.

Yeah, I'd judge the new campaign a success ;)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Looks at The Rule of Three - What's Next, What Happened, What Are You Doing?

The Grump Dwarf here.  Time to look at the latest Rule of Three from WotC.  Remember, I'm not just a Dwarf, I'm Grumpy too ;)  Original link here.

Will any products for D&D Next release this year (2012)?
No. We have no products planned in 2012 for the next iteration of the game. (I'm sure this surprises some folks.  This is actually very good news.  Hopefully they don't put out some lame "non-edition intro books" as a quick cash grab as they've done in the past) First of all, that would make it completely impossible for us to integrate feedback gathered from the playtesting process, something I want to reiterate is a significant priority for us. (open play test starts on may 24th folks.  don't bitch about the game when it's finally released if you don't bother at least reading the play test material and giving your feedback) Second, we want to make sure that the game doesn't release until it's ready to release, (okay, while they might actually mean this, they have a date already set "somewhere" and it will ship on that date, ready or not, here it comes!) and that means that we want to give ourselves plenty of time when working on everything from the game's design to art to layout and beyond before releasing the product.(again, I expect they believe this, but I don't believe it will ship one day later than they have already told the Hasbro Overlords)

As an aside, I'd like to note that we won't be able to talk about products related to D&D Next (in Rule-of-Three, or elsewhere) until the game is ready, so it may be a while before we start dealing with product specifics.  (Lets makes some guesses - Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and a Monster Manual for the opening trilogy.  Do I win a prize?)
Whatever happened to the idea of the priest, or a cleric who doesn't wear armor and smites enemies with holy power from a distance (aka laser cleric)?  (who ever thought up the term "laser cleric" deserves a kick in the nether regions)
Right now, we're looking at ways to let players make that decision within a class. Choices made during character building and play should allow you to choose one type of cleric or another. An easy way to handle this is spell choice; do I choose spells that make my melee attacks better, or spells that let me zap from a distance? (I know they are trying to keep this stuff simple to describe, but "zap from a distance?")  Beyond that, we'll want some class mechanics to speak to one type of cleric or another. For example, we're tinkering with the idea that a cleric's domain choice might steer play style slightly. Take the healing domain, be the best healer. Take the war domain, be a great melee cleric. (why be a melee cleric?  isn't melee reserved for fighters to be the uber class?) Take the sun domain, be a great laser cleric. (i'm going to guess that wizards make better "lazers") It's still in process, but that's one line of thought.

What are you doing to make sure that the cleric and other magic users don't step on the toes of the other classes? If a cleric can be sneaky and use a bow, what place does the ranger or rogue have?
It's important to remember when talking about competence in particular areas that there is a distinction between being good at something and being the best at something. We want to make sure that each character class shines in certain arenas, and as a result while you might build a cleric who can sneak and use a bow (to use your example), and your cleric might be very good at those things, the ranger or rogue will probably still be better (wait, the ranger and the rogue are going to share skills at the same level?  i thought based upon all of these articles that D&D Doppleganger is going to be all about "niche protection", at least at the highest levels of the skill) . We want to give plenty of flexibility for people to be able to build the characters they want to build, that are good at the things they want them to be good at, while still providing ways for all the classes to have certain realms in which they are the best.

I'm Not Going to Roll, I'll Just Choose to Succeed!

So, I did some further thinking on Mike Mearls' latest post, which also led to me thinking about one of Monte's earlier posts, right before the announcement of D&D Doppleganger, which changes form to suit the designer / DM / players / etc. Why this desire to auto-adjudicate success?

As a side note, if we are going the auto-adjudicate success route, does it matter that thieves are better at skills than others? No one is rolling 95% of the time anyway.

(BTW, 95% is a number I pulled out of the Grumpy Dwarf's Ass - it may be 90%, it may be 99%, we won't know until the 24th)

I understand the desire to improve upon the starting thief's ability success chance at low levels. I'd even go so far as to double the starting success chance, and half the advancement rate. WotC won't do that, as it would require switching skills to a percentile roll as opposed to a D20 role. Still, I think it would go far to solve the problem (i may consider such in my ACKS campaign, but this houserule is not a priority at the moment.

Auto success arguably speeds up gameplay. But it does so at the expense of the game. What thrill, what edge of the seat excitement, is gained when the thief (rogue, whatever) can pick every lock, disarm every trap?

D&D is not an Endless Quest books. It more more than just a series of choices and decisions, it is also a game where some things are left to fate.

Unless Mike plans to auto-adjudicate combat too. Now that would certainly speed up gameplay, and that is the goal of D&D D, correct? Remove the dice rolling and that one hour game session is certainly more than doable. Assuming you can find players to sit down for the one hour game session.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Looks At Mike Mearls' Latest - Rogue Design Goals

Holy Shit, but this posting certainly got my Grumpy Up!

You can read the original here, without all my "grumpy-isms".

This week, the rogue takes center stage. Why the rogue? Well, I conducted a quick poll on Twitter to determine if I should tackle the wizard or the rogue next (enough with the polls!  alright,this poll really had no meaning in the long run, but the WotC polls are pretty much BS in general). I tallied the tweets, and the rogue won out! (Woot!  Not!)If you want to add your voice to the Twitter crew when I conduct these polls of mine, or if you want to get a sense of what the team is working on each day, you can hop on Twitter and follow @mikemearls and @Wizards_DnD. Just don't forget to add #dndnext whenever you join the conversation there or ask questions! Now I can't promise that I can get to everything, since my availability is determined by my work schedule and my wife's willingness to let me keep my nose in my laptop at night (alright, this I can relate to), but it's probably the best way to communicate with me.

So, what's up with the rogue in D&D?

1. The rogue doesn't fight fair.

Fighters, clerics, and wizards take it straight to their enemies in a fight. A fighter charges in with a sword or maybe unleashes a volley of arrows (yeah, I've never played a fighter that has snuck up on the enemy). A cleric wields a mace and throws a support spell (or Command, or Hold Person, or Rock to Mud), while a wizard blasts you with a lightning bolt (or casts Fly, or Mass Suggestion, or Mirror Image on the fighter) . The rogue prefers an indirect approach to a fight. A rogue thrives on tricks and misdirection. If a rogue can't attack from behind or with some other key advantage, he or she might be better off withdrawing or remaining out of sight until the opportunity for a surprise attack presents itself (if the rogue hides for the length of the combat the player is an asshole.  if you're that afraid, engage the weaker opponenets).

If a rogue can surprise an opponent with an attack, that attack might be overwhelmingly powerful (it might). If a rogue is cornered and forced to fight fair, he or she is at a huge disadvantage. In such a situation, most rogues would choose to run away rather than fight (run away and expose yourself to a free attack?  that makes sense how?  when did rogues / thieves become cowards?) .

Rogues are tricky opponents, because determining what they might do next is almost impossible. A smart rogue always keeps a few tricks in his or her back pocket, ready to spring them when the time is right. Whether it's throwing a handful of caltrops under a bugbear's feet as it tries to charge, leaping from an ambush to drive a blade into an ogre's back, or dodging beneath a dragon's claws and tumbling into the shadows to hide, a rogue always has a trick in mind (all good ideas, but why must he run away if he can't do a trick?).

2. Rogues are skilled.

Rogues have many different tricks up their sleeves, and no two rogues are identical. They can hide in shadows, squeeze out of manacles, scamper up walls, and adopt a disguise. You can never be fully certain of what a rogue might be able to do. If a rogue decides to master a mundane skill, he or she can reach a higher level of expertise than other characters. (i'm a bit confused, because earlier statements made it seem that even the usual rogue like specialties skills were open to all classes)

In many ways, a thief is simply a rogue who specializes in handling traps, opening locks, and getting past the opposition to reach a goal, such as the loot at the end of the adventure (isn't this the main use of a thief / rogue in a dungeon anyway?). Just as fighters might distinguish themselves by their choice of weapons, armor, and tactics, rogues are separated by the tricks and skills they have developed.

3. The rogue exists in a world of myth, fantasy, and legend.

This one showed up in the fighter goals, but it also applies to the rogue. The rogue can trick others, slip through shadows, and talk his or her way out of anything. Although these abilities are not magical in nature, a high-level rogue can transcend the limits of a mundane skill to achieve legendary heights of myth and legend. A wizard might use a spell to charm the king, but a dispel magic can free that king. The same king tricked into an alliance by a rogue is much harder to sway. A simple spell is not enough to counter the web of lies, half-truths, and fears that a cunning rogue might use to manipulate a way into the royal treasury. (isn't this what "role-playing" is supposed to be about?  shouldn't any class be able to pull this off with the right role-playing?  This whole paragraph confuses this dwarf)

4. The rogue makes the routine look trivial.

Rogue are in a class by themselves when it comes to attempting ability checks and using skills. Not only is a rogue more skilled than other classes, but he or she can achieve many difficult tasks without much exertion. To the rogue, luck and chance play no role in determining success. The rogue's talent and training make such concerns negligible.  (wait a second?  WTF does this mean?  rogues get auto-success with their skills?  how the fucking hell is that fun?  "hey, look at me!  that lock?  I picked it!  that deadly trap?  i gave it my scarey face and it just closed up and died!")

Traditionally, the mechanics of D&D have reflected better training by increasing the chance of success. That doesn't quite capture the rogue's level of talent. The rogue isn't just more likely to succeed. Instead, he or she takes success for granted in most cases. It's only when facing a real challenge that the rogue must worry about the outcome.  (wonderful.  so, basically a rogue is absolutely necessary in te party, cause he auto-successes 95% of the locks and traps, and sneaks 95% of the time, etc, etc, etc.  Sounds like a system I'd have to house rule the shit out of or just stay the fuck away from.  Riddle me this Batman?  How in the Nine Planes of Hairy Hell is this resembling "Old School" play in the least?)

A Little More on the Playtest

One thing to keep in mind about these design goals is that they are flexible and open to discussion. A big part of the playtest process tackles having us all make sure that the game feels like D&D (well, this write up certainly doesn't sound like any D&D I know of). If you've played rogues for ten years, ask yourself if the new rogue feels like the class you've played and loved (lets see - auto-success at 1st level?  nope). In addition to testing the core of the game, the early rounds of testing are geared toward making sure that the game is hitting the correct notes for all the classes. On May 24th, you'll get to see how we tried to hit these goals, whether we're on the mark at this early stage, and if the target we've aimed for is the correct one. (and if you are way off the fuckin' target, will you listen to feedback that tells you how to adjust your sight and aim better?)

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG in Hand!

I had read on the Goodman Games Forums from those that already got their copy of the DCC RPG that is was a solid book, but I had no idea how solid, how big, until mine arrived today.  So of course I hard to take picture of both it and it's accompanying free module.  As the rulebook also includes a 1st level adventure and a 5th level adventure, they start you off pretty well.

I really can't see myself running this on a regular basis, but it might be a lot of fun for a one-shot or a short story arc.

Still, I expect there are some things I can steal for my ACKS campaign.  Let my players beware ;)

Technology and Index Cards - Perfect Together

When I used to DM regularly, back in the Way Back (1980-1997) I took quickly to using index cards to keep PC (and significant NPC) information handy.

Most of the time, the index cards were paper clipped to my DM Screen, as I had already memorized most of the charts in question, and the screen was mostly there to keep certain dice rolls and dungeon maps out of the player's views.

Running an RPG via G+ Hangout (or really any VTT) pretty much does away with the need to hide rolls. If the interface allows for online dice rolling, and you need to keep the roll secret, just roll real dice off screen. Can't get more secret than that.

The need to view PC info or charts does take up valuable screen space if you are using your computer to run the game. Even with a 27" screen, I'd rather refer to my deadtree copy of ACKS, or print out the material I need for the session, than pull it up on the screen. I need the screen real estate to run the game, not read the material (obviously, if you are gaming in person, a laptop can be THE awesome game master aid).

So, time for me to go to the dollar store and get some index cards. Look at me be all organized and shit ;)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Holy Crap But The Trolls Fit a Lot in My C&C Classic Monsters Box!

I participated in the Castles & Crusades Classic Monsters Kickstarter and I just didn't realize how much I was getting for my $100 until the box arrived.  Shipping was $13.27 for this sucker.  I can only imagine what it's going to cost SJG to ship the OGRE boxes.

Classic Monsters is going to be the poor man's Tome of Horror's Complete in the OSR corner of out hobby, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.  For 25 bucks (or $15 in PDF).  Both books have the Flailsnail and the Flumph.  So if you are looking for some of the otherwise neglected monsters from some of TSR's later Monster Manuals and the Fiend Folio, this has got them... or at least, some of them.  Enough to fill my needs, and I may just leave the Tome of Horrors Complete on the bookshelf for now, as I think Classic Monsters will fill the roll and not take up too much space.  Did I mention that my copy is the limited run with the 6 color plates of artwork?

The Castle Keepers Guide I still feel is overpriced for a PDF, but a quick flipping through of the hardback  has me interested in a number of tools that I can use in my current ACKS campaign.  Monster Ecology and the Worlds of Adventure: Dungeons  and WoA: City sections seem ripe for yoking into my ACKS campaign.  I have a very complete C&C collection, and it's the main game I've played over the past few years, so I'm sure I'll get use out of the CKG.  I'm not so sure how much value non -C&C players will get from it (its $40 in hardcover and $32 in PDF).

I also got a HCs of the current C&C Players Handbook and Monsters & Treasure Books.  All 4 books were signed by the author.  Which I have to admit is pretty cool.

Additionally, I received a copy of the adventure DA1, Dark Journey.  That wasn't signed by the author but who cares.  Oh, and a bunch of Troll Lord coins.  I have no idea what they are to be used for, but their kinda cute. They remind me of the tokens I used to get at the arcade to cash in for a prize.

Did I mention I also got a snazzy t-shirt?  I didn't take a picture of if it.  I'll have to do it as a follow up.

So, $127 dollars worth of gaming books, signed, plus the t-shirt and coins free shipping, no tax here in NYS.  Not too bad.  Wait, forgot I get electronic copies in the format of my choice of the 4 rulebooks.  Not too shabby.  Not too shabby at all.

Digging Deeper and Adjusting My Focus - A Re-Read of the ACKS Rules

There's a handful of things that stick out to me, especially as I go through the spell and magic item sections.

There really is a dearth healing spells in ACKS.  No Cure Critical Wounds, no Heal - it does make a deadly game system even more deadly, especially at the higher levels.  The best you get is the 4th level Cure Serious Wounds spell, which heals 2d6 +1 point per caster level.  Admittedly, that isn't all that bad.  Still, I see no reason why Cure Light Wounds couldn't heal 1d6 +1 half the caster's level.  This wouldn't even change the result of the roll until 4th level (as the base CLW spell heals 1d6+1).  Consider this a possible pending house rule.

The Sleep spell as per the AD&D 1e Player's Handbook gives is an area of effect of 3" diameter (15' radius).  "All creatures to be affect by the sleep spell must be within the 3" diameter circle).  I always assumed (possibly wrong but who knows) that the caster didn't have direct control over who the spell affected.  If PCs were present in the AOE, we determined randomly if they were dropped by the spell.  ACKS clears things up quite a big, by allowing the caster to affect one target or target a group of creature.  A group by this definition would usually exclude the other PCs.  This was something I had to read twice in game to make sure I was reading it right, and to doubly make sure I didn't default to my AD&D baseline.

Continual Light is not forever in ACKS, it's more like indefinite.  The caster can maintain one continual light spell per level of experience indefinitely without need for concentration.  No "every corner is lit by a conical light spell" in the cities in ACKS.  Guess I won't be playing an Eberron Campaign with these rules (not that I planned to).

The monster section is.  Yep, it simply is.  It's boring.  Alright, maybe not boring, but certainly uninspiring.  Then again, I have so many OSR games, and most of them have pretty uninspiring monster sections too.  However, I do have my Tome of Horrors Complete for Swords & Wizardry.  Much nicer selection to draw upon, complete with possible hooks and encounters.

The magic item section is cribbed fairly straight from the OGL.  How do I know?  It talks about Arcane Spell Scrolls holding spells of up to 9th level and Divine Spell Scrolls holding spells of up to 7th level.  In ACKS, Arcane Casters top of at 6th level spells, and Divine Casters top off with 5th level spells.

A similar dropping of the ball occurs during the mention of racial languages.  They include halflings in the mix, but there are no halfling PCs in the game.  They are there as NPCs, as a sort of human / dwarves mongrel racial hybrid, but you can't play them.  I actually thought they weren't even going to be in the monster section, so this bit caught me by surprise.

Swords and Armor don't go above a +3 bonus, which is quite in balance with a game that tops off at 14th level.  I very much like the Scavenging Treasures tables, as it puts some nice flavor to the non-magical stuff the players like to loot to make a few coins off of later.

Alright, all for now.  I need to add some more updates to the campaign's Obsidian Portal site.

Playing With Proficiencies in ACKS

Generic Adventuring Party
Our Party Has No Women or Hobbits
(That I Know Of ;)
I like to house rule.  That really isn't a secret.  The only difference is that 15 years away from the DM's chair has taught me to be organized right from the start of the campaign.  Notice I didn't use the phrase "more organized"?  Trust me, it wouldn't have applied back in the days of my gaming past.

It's kind funny, but when I read the Adventurer Conquerer Kings System rules the first couple of times, or at least did my usual chaotic flipping back and forth through the rule book style of reading, I never realized that proficiencies in the ACKS system do not get modified by a relevant ability score bonus (or penalty).  It wasn't until my players started making their characters that I realized this was not part of the rules.

Now, it could be that it isn't part of the rules because the assumption is you'll be rolling 3d6 for ability scores, and you'll be limiting the success of PCs that take proficiencies linked to abilities that give that particular character a penalty.  It could be the writers didn't want to stress the importance of ability score (which I don't see, as they certainly are an important bonus or penalty in combat).  If I'm going to run a campaign that is going to rely as much on "the role" as "the roll", this was something ripe for house ruling.

I didn't go through the list of proficiencies and assign relevant abilities to them.  Instead, as the use of the skill came up in game play, I suggested the ability that I felt was relevant and instructed the player to add their appropriate bonus or penalty to their roll.  If they thought another ability was just as relevant or more so, I would have been receptive to their line of thought if they could support it.  Of course, now that proficiencies such as Alchemy (Int) and Tracking (Int) have come into play, I'll need to make note of the decisions made.

As for the proficiencies themselves, I found the use of them strictly by the book was limiting.  I had no idea I would feel this way until the situations game up, but encouraging use of player skills and abilities outside the struck and limiting box of the written rules has always been an important part of play to me as a GM.

When the Elven Nightblade made his tracking roll, he wanted more than just direction of the tracks (direction was pretty useless in the limited mine they were investigating).  He was looking for relevant facts.  He rolled a decent success, and I explained the tracks were from a creature that apparently was reptilian, bipedal, with bare feet (clawed at that) with possible a slightly stooped gait when it moved.  I didn't spell out "troglodyte", but they were getting close.

When the Mage asked if he could use his Alchemy skill to inspect the especially stinky dung, as it might be component for a potion or such, that was exactly the types of skill use I want from my players.  I doubt that troglodyte dung is a common alchemical substance, but I am fairly sure it is a rare one, if not maybe even uncommon.  So I allowed the roll.  If he had just made it, I would have given him a vague answer, that coupled with other (previous) clues, may have allowed the party to reach the right conclusion.  But Greg aced his roll, and I told him exactly what it was.

So there we have it, a house rule we started the campaign with, and a house rule that came into play because it made sense for the type of game I like to run.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Games From the Basement - Warhammer Fantasy Battle (2nd Edition)

Somewhere , yet to be resdicovered, is a boxed set of the Warhammer 1st edition rules.  The ones that claimed to be an RPG but were barely functional as a war-game.  Still, I loved it.  Not for playing, just for the aura it gave off.

I remember buying the 2nd edition Warhammer rules, expecting it would have fixed the nearly nonexistent role play rules from the 1st edition.  The fixed it alright, by removing them completely.

I really wanted this to be the edition of Warhammer that worked for me.  It might have been a fine war-game, but my group didn't do war-games.

Yes, the Whole Box is in
Mint Condition
Curse Those Non-Wargamers
I Gamed With!
When Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was released, I finally had the game I (and my group) were looking for.  We played the crap out of the WFRP until we burned ourselves out on the system, and returned to our old standby, AD&D.

Some More Post Game Session Thoughts

Some further thoughts on last nite's ACKS session:

I really need to learn how to use the whiteboard feature in Tabletop Forge (i know i missed that - great save by Charles)

I really need to copy down the notes and scribbles I took last night before I forget what they mean.  It doesn't help that even I have trouble reading my handwriting, especially when written fast.  Penmanship is not my strongpoint.

Clerics aren't needed when the party doesn't take damage.  I expect that will change next session.

I have a bad habit of house ruling on the fly.  I need some sort of flypaper to make sure i make note of these damn house rules.

I do like the ACKS system.  It feels like a cross between B/X and AD&D, which works fine for me, as those are the systems I know best.

The party zigged when I fully expected them to zag in the very first scene.  Which means that the first session's direction went where I hadn't expected (but thankfully I had other provisions planned - it is a sandbox type campaign).  I can already tell my players are going to keep me on my toes.  Which is awesome, as it keeps the game fresh for me as well as the players.

I am truly glad I was prepared for a possible zag or two (although picking a fight in a bar was not the direction I expect).  I know what I'll be doing over the next week.  Preparing myself to expect the unexpected, as this group seems to thrive on going in those directions.

Back in the Saddle Again - Recapping the First Session of the ACKS Campaign

Wow.  Simply wow.  I have assembled an excellent group of players, which really shouldn't be a surprise, as I've played played with 3 of them for a while now, and the 4th I've known (via his blog at least) for years.  I'm very happy with how the first session turned out.

The party is currently composed of the following:

A Thrassian Gladiator who likes to brawl.  He actually got into a bar fight with a 3rd level Dwarven Vaultguard at the beginning of the session.  It was a close fight, but the gladiator won (and the dwarf now suffers from a permanent penalty to his initiative - do you think the party has a new nemesis with the dwarf and the rest of his party? ;)

An Elven Nightblade who is also the tracker in the party.  I'm allowing a high enough tracking roll to determine some details of the creature being tracked.

A Human Mage that certainly does not look the part.  A traveling companion of the gladiator from before the forming of the party, it is amazing he hasn't been an inadvertent casualty of said gladiator's desire to fight everything.  A sleep spell followed by a good set of manacles solves many a problem.

A Human Fighter.  The only party member native to the starting town.  Didn't get a chance to land a blow due to the well times sleep spell.  That will have to wait until next week.

I'm using Dark Times in Brighton for the starting town / sandbox and used the short adventure (with a few on the fly modifications) from The Manor #1.  Very little combat in the first session (the sleep spell took out the two troglodytes before any blows could be successfully struck), but the role play and the investigative aspects were definitely in full swing.  The damn party had me laughing hard at many points. I did learn a valuable lesson:  listen carefully to your players even while multitasking, or else you will miss the line "i'm searching the troglodyte's groin for valuables" as you will follow up with "you found a ring".  I don't think I've ever given out a "cockering" as a treasure before ;)

Rules-wise, I believe in empowering the players.  I allowed the successful use of the alchemy proficiency (it was a high roll) to identify the droppings as coming from a troglodyte.  Between the smells they were already dealing with, and a tracking roll that allowed the players the knowledge that the creature was humanoid, large, stooped with clawed feet, I figured they would all meet with the creature being identified.

Does alchemy or even tracking allow for such details as written in the rules?  No, but just because it isn't spelled out, doesn't mean it isn't part of the proficiency.

I'm also allowing appropriate stat bonuses to be used with proficiency rolls.  Doesn't unbalance anything in the grand scheme of things, and makes stats more important than just for combat.

In any case, I think we pulled off a successful start to a new campaign.  Not bad for a guy that hasn't DM'ed since 1997 ;)

(Troglodyte by Eric Quigley)
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