Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Circle of the Dead

I'm in the Pocono Mountains of Northeastern PA for the weekend.  I've been coming up here since I was a wee lad, thanks to the foresight of my grandfather.  The mountains reminded him of his homeland, and he bought a small house in the country when he found the money, just so he could escape the city when he needed to.  Because of him, I get to escape the city when I need to.

The great thing about the country is the history.  The Poconos have many books written about them.  It was coal country, canal country, first locomotive in the United States traveled its rails.  That's not what got my mind thinking today.  What got my mind thinking today was a cemetery just outside of Honesdale and some of the graves within.

I haven't walked the cemetery in a number of years, but I still vividly remember a small section off from the rest.  Here, Civil War soldiers that fought for the Union are buried, along with their commanding officer.  All in a circle.  It really is quite striking.  You can feel the energy in the air.

There is a seed for an adventure in this circle of soldiers, in the circle of the dead.  Whether it's just a location in my ACKS campaign for my PCs to come across and wonder about the meaning in the greater scheme of things or if they might be guarding something in the afterlife, preventing a great evil from entering the world before their graves were disturbed in a possible DCC scenario, there is definitely something there.

Strange what you draw inspiration from, as you sit across from a cemetery, eating ice cream and you just remember.

I'll see what tonight's dreams bring me.

Seek Adventure!

This is going to be a Dungeon Crawl Classics weekend of sorts, as I am sitting here in the Pocono Mountains of Northeastern PA and the only reading material I brought with me was the DCC Core Rulebook and and the adventures I printed out for it.  Need to learn what I plan to run.

My Adventurer Conqueror King System campaign is most certainly sandbox in nature.  While rails may appear on occasions, the players are free to jump on or off at will and avoid them all together.  They are most certainly adding their own voices to the story.

3e, Pathfinder and 4e like to enjoy their adventure paths, which are pretty much railroads on steroids with lots of bells and whistles to distract the players from the idea that they are on rails.  The path would end if they didn't get from point A to point B with each installment, and that would not be good for the bean counters.

Dungeon Crawl Classics is different.  It's use of adventures reminds me very much of my early days of gaming, when we really didn't give a shit about towns, towns folks, wilderness (unless it was included in some random encounters in the module) - all we cared about was the dungeon.  Heck, I think it was years before we worried about motivations beyond leveling, loot and gold.

I'm not saying you couldn't run DCC as a sandbox.  I'm sure you could at the very least find away to link the adventures.  That's not the point of DCC as written.  The point is to explore dungeons, kick ass (or haul ass if it goes bad) and survive to adventure again later.  It is refreshing in it's basic goals.

Alright, back to reading.

Are You Experienced? A Quick Look at Expo in the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

I never really liked the experience system from 3e.  The whole idea of awarding expo based on encounter level relative to character levels seemed like too much work.  If the players are much higher in level than the encounter, odds are the encounter expo is a pittance compared to a level appropriate encounter.  Why do math to tweak it more?

At the same time, the classic method of awarding expo for gold retrieved during an adventure (and magic items back in AD&D) seems very contrived to me.  I'm using it in ACKS, as it is very much a part of the core system, but that doesn't mean I'm happy with it.

Dungeon Crawl Classics takes a different approach.  You get expo for surviving an encounter.  Maybe you defeated your foes.  Maybe they escaped.  Maybe the trap went off but you still managed to survive.  Perhaps the party fled, with the idea that it is better to run away, to live an adventure another day.  All the above give expo.  I like it.

The simplified expo system also applies to the numbers themselves.  It takes 40 expo to go from level 1 to level 2.  Simplified number keeping is never a bad thing.

I'm interested to see how this plays out after repeated play.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Interesting Thing Noticed While Reading DCC RPG (and some AD&D 2e Trivia)

Just noticed that Dungeon Crawl Classics includes a 1D4 Hit Point Kicker on all of the classes - the 1D4 HP they would have had as zero level characters.  Pretty cool and fairly useful in this deadlier than norm system.

On to the trivia -

For those that want to play the AD&D 2e Trivia Game (rules are listed here), this post's questions are as follows:

Question 1 - For 2 Points - What two things kill a troll?

Question 2 - For 3 Points - Which character class group begins play with the most weapon proficiences?

Question 3 - For 5 Points - What is a green dragon's breath weapon?

Question 4 - For 5 Points = What are the two forms of fire shield spell?

Mini Review - Dungeon Crawl Classics #67: Sailors on the Starless Sea (DCC RPG)

Remember how I've been talking about how the D&D Next Playtest materials drove me to the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG?  Well, I picked up the two current releases that are up at RPGNow and printed them out.  For me, that is nearly unheard of.  I don't print out my PDF gaming material.  Well, with one exception, stuff I plan on using in game, directly.  When I was preparing for my ACKS campaign I killed a small sapling printing out setting materials and other stuff.  A few more branches suffered today.

Today I'm looking at DCC #67 - Sailors on the Starless Sea.  Lets see, where shall I start?

SotSS is a Level 0 adventure for DCC, which means it is written to act as a "Character Funnel".  20 peasants go in, hopeful a handful will survive.  So yes, it is an extremely lethal adventure.  It is a very atmospheric adventure.  Lastly, By The Gods, I expect it will be a blast to play and GM!

To survive, players will need their wits and lots of luck.  Without acting as a spoiler, the player characters will be up against the forces of chaos itself.  Should they survive, they will be adventurers, leveled characters, the elite.  Should they fail they "will suffer a fate more fearsome than death, their sprits fueling the infernal might of the reborn chaos lord."  So yes, they better succeed.  Well, at least some of them ;)

The artwork is awesome and there is actually a page of player handouts, which i always happen to love, as it really brings the players further into the game.  That and it's just great pieces of art.

Talking about art - the maps are beautiful.  Goodman should sell prints of them (with the room / laceration markings removed).  Really.  I'm not joking.  There is more to the included maps then just the maps themselves, and the embellishing artwork is amazing.  It's a shame players won't get to see them, just those of us running it.

Keeping with the DCC RPG default for adventures, there is pretty much no set up.  The villagers start at the adventure location and the only initial decision is which way they plan on entering.  I'd complain about this if it were another RPG system, but as this is DCC, it works fine and is actually expected.  Pretty much a "Cut the crap and lets start killing stuff!"  Very much the opposite of my sandbox styled ACKS campaign.  Both approaches have their validity.

Really should be a blast to run.  Looking forward to doing so via UA-LC in a few weeks.  I'll let you all know when I'm recruiting the needed number of peasants for the funnel ;)

From the blurb:

Since time immemorial you and your people have toiled in the shadow of the cyclopean ruins. Of mysterious origins and the source of many a superstition, they have always been considered a secret best left unknown by the folk of your hamlet.

But now something stirs beneath the crumbling blocks. Beastmen howl in the night and your fellow villagers are snatched from their beds. With no heroes to defend you, who will rise to stand against the encircling darkness? The secrets of Chaos are yours to unearth, but at what cost to sanity or soul?

An introductory adventure for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, Sailors on the Starless Sea pits a mob of 0-level adventurers against the legacy of the Chaos Lords and their corrupted hordes. Delving beneath the crumbling ruins, the characters discover ancient crypts, a starless sea, and an ancient ziggurat, where death and treasure await in equal measure!

The Grumpy Dwarf Listens to Mike Mearls in the D&D Next Playtest Podcast

First off, here's the link to the podcast:  D&D Next Podcast

It's just over 26 minutes of your life to listen to it and no, you don't get it back.

I was surprised at the amount of times they used the spell "Summon Old School".  I'll assume it is an At Will Power and not a Vancian Spell ;)

I do have a few questions / comments:

- how can it be "this week's podcast" when the last podcast was in April? Wouldn't it be "this month's podcast" at that rate?

- monthly updates to the playtest package, and possibly smaller updates in between?  I'm impressed

- how the fuck is it too much for people to process the whole game as it currently is in house? too much to expect the players to create their own PCs?  we created PCs in the previous version of the Beta (which was good, as we found a broken rule or two by doing so). everyone play testing is a gamer by nature - its what we do.  it's a condescending bit of crap that i'm sure wasn't intended to be as such, but it certainly can be seen as such.

- they want folks to house rule the heck out of the game? wouldn't it be easier to just run the edition you currently have, as that's probably what you are house ruling it towards anyway?

- definitely playing up the Old School angle... it's the PT Cruiser of RPGs ;)

so, what are your thoughts after listening?

The Grumpy Dwarf Asks Mike Mearls a Question- What's Up With No Google+ Hangouts with D&D Next?

I'm really left scratching my beard on this one.  To me it seems like Hasbro's lawyers got involved in something they had no need to and are just muddying the waters.

When I signed my D&D Next playtest agreement yesterday, I do not recall a section indicating I couldn't play the game (it is a game, right?) using Google+ Hangouts, Skype or some other VTT.  Then WotC posts a D&D Next Playtest FAQ, and lo and behold, the FAQ says you can't:

Can I run an online game via email, Skype, Google Hangout or a play-by-post forum? 
No, you may not run an online game on third parties sites at this time.
Which I guess means you can use WotC's not ready for prime time VTT, but even that isn't spelled out.  Strangely enough, I never agreed to this when I signed the agreement.

Do they think we are going to record a session and send it out into the world?  Why do that when the playtest documents were already on rapidshare by yesterday afternoon for all the world to grab without signing off on any agreement?

But wait, its gets better.  Here's a piece from Mike's interview at Kobold Quarterly (because you know he had to make the media rounds before the playtest released)

  • Wolfgang: D&D Next provides a lot of support for “theatre of the mind,” also known as running your game without minis. I’ve found this extremely enjoyable in online games using Google Hangouts. Is that form of online play a design goal?
  • Mike: I’m not sure if it started as a design goal, but since many of our playtests took place using Hangouts it helped evolve it that way. When you don’t have minis and grids to represent things, it forces you to make sure that your rules don’t require them. So I think a good way to think of it is that if playing via Hangout works, then the game should also work fine if you and your players want to sit on couches in your TV room without a table, or while driving to GenCon, or wherever.
Emphasis above is all mine.

I'm left with just these thoughts:  Mike, what the fuck is going on?  Did your handlers let you know that Google+ Hangouts and the like were now verboten before you spoke so glowingly about it in an interview?  Why can we not do now what we could do before?  Are you trying to use this as a way to push WotC's VTT?

Talk about shooting yourselves in the foot.  This is one of the worst decisions the paper pushers could have made, especially after it was so largely used in the Friends & Family part of the Beta.  I know first hand, as my group use G+ Hangouts for our sessions.  Whatever faults we had with the system, it wasn't that it didn't work well over Hangouts.

As a side note, how the hell would you even know if members of your gaming group signed off on the agreement to Playtest D&D Next?  Just their word from what I can see.  There is no way to verify.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mini Review - Crawl! First Issue (Dungeon Crawl Classics Fanzine)

I think you can tell I'm a fan of RPG fanzines.  I'll take them in print and I'll take them in PDF.  I almost always grab the first issue of a new one for fear of missing out on something really good.  Besides, one issue is often enough to weed out the good from the not so good.

Crawl! is most certainly in the good column.

I'm pretty sure the cover shot of Crawl! #1 is not going to do it justice as it's black ink on black paper.  Trust me when I say the effect is much better in real life compared to my piss poor photo.

How about the inside?  Twenty pages of Dungeon Crawl Classics goodness.  See, I'm still working my way throughout the tome that is DCC and this little booklet helped kickstart me to decide to complete the journey (well, that and the DnD Next Playtest Materials being released today reminding me how much the smaller publishers are pushing the envelope regarding Old School Style play, but I digress.

Some quick and dirty rules for turning your DCC game into a more Swords & Sorcery type of game.  Simple enough guidelines and very useful, even if I don't decide to use them immediately.  They are effective in showing how simple it is to house rule, and how a house rule doesn't have to be huge to have an fairly large effect on flavor.  Interesting use of Hit Dice Pools as one of the house rules.  If you've been following the D&D Next talk, it is pretty much what Mearls was talking about.  In this context, if the campaign lacks clerics and magical healing, it is almost a necessity.

The article on Patrons I couldn't quite grasp - need to get further along in the core rulebook it seems.

Variable skill check difficulties was interesting.  Think I need to read more on that section of the rules to determine if I'd want to use it.

Converting OSR style spells to DCC was pretty interesting.  Two pages covered a lot of ground. If I ever kick off a full campaign of DCC I'd probably want to keep this handy if I wanted to throw the players some non-standard DCC spells.

So, can you tell that I think it's a steal for $3.50?

How about the idea that I ordered this before I'd decided to actually give the DCC rules a complete read through?  I'm damn glad I have a habit of picking up the first issues of RPG fanzines in general.  Crawl! is yet another one I'll be subscribing to.

I've Downloaded The D&D Next Playtest Materials - And Have Decided to Give DCC a Complete Read Through Instead

Hows that for a kicker?

When I got my Dungeon Crawl Classics hardcover, I saw the size of it and basically said: "there ain't no way in hell I'm reading this without a week long vacation."

I've played D&D Next in it's previous incarnations and I really haven't seen anything in my quick perusal of the latest Playtest Packet that makes me want to sit down and read it.  I guess I'll wait for others to break it down and highlight stuff.  Very anti-climatic.  Doesn't look great, doesn't look horrid - it just exists.

So here I am with the DCC rules, trying to figure out what I did with the enclosed module that the preorders received, and figuring that DCC may just be the first game I run under the UA-LC umbrella. It has a atmosphere that should play out pretty well over a handful of gaming sessions.

On top of that, I need to figure out if there are parts I can yoke for my ACKS campaign. No game session this weekend, what with the holiday here in the states, which is good - it gives me some free time to read up on other game systems.

I Came, I Saw, I Signed

I'm not thrilled I had to sign a play test agreement.  As others have pointed out, Pathfinder never asked for such, nor did Dungeon Crawl Classics.  Just because WotC says it's standard, doesn't mean it's true.

That being said, I'm free to discuss the play test experience prior and the current materials.

As part of your participation as a DnD Next Playtester, you will receive Playtest materials that are proprietary and highly confidential to Wizards.  You agree not to copy, excerpt, distribute (either in physical or digital format), publish, display, disseminate, release and/or transmit, in whole or in part, or create derivative materials from any of the Playtest Materials provided to you.  You further agree that you will not use the Playtest Materials for your own benefit (other than to participate in the play test) or to the benefit of any third party.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, you may publicly discuss your thoughts regarding the D&D Next Playtest Materials and your play testing experience.  If you have previously executed a Nondisclosure Agreement with Wizards related to D&D Next play testing, the terms and conditions of that NDA are still effective regarding the content of the Playtest Materials, however, Wizards releases you from any and all confidentiality requirements related to your thoughts regarding the D&D Next Playtest Materials and your play testing experience.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Drinks Beer and Comments on Mike's Interview at Wired

Hi.  I'm fucking Grumpy the Dwarf.  I mean, I am The Fucking Grumpy the Dawrf.  I just got back from the pub with the misses.  I had four pints of Killeans, and I'm moving to take whatever is in the damn icebox that aint tied down and has gone through some sort of fermentation.  I asked for a piss bucket so I wouldn't have to get up in the midst of my ramblings, but the wife threatened to cut off the ale if I went thus far.  Apparently I'll be taking some breaks, as me seal has already been broken.

If you’ve been following role-playing game news, you know that the fate of Dungeons & Dragons is somewhat in peril. Many younger gamers flock to video games, not table-top games. Some old school gamers have abandoned the hobby entirely, or else they play outdated (but perfectly playable) versions of the rules (or reimagined rules inspired by such). Others prefer Pathfinder and other fantasy RPGs. Factions squabble over what edition ofD&D is the best. (There's actually a question?  I'll be generous - anything prior to 3e - no, make that anything prior to Skills & Powers in 2e - heck, cut out all but the first four Complete Handbooks too while you are at it.  Now, where the fuck were we?)
Getting fans of the various rules — Original D&D, Basic D&D (and Basic isn't really just Basic), AD&D, 2nd Edition, 3rd, 3,5 and 4.0 — to all agree on how to run a run-of-the-mill combat with a band of hobgoblins (simple - ya kill 'em!), how magic is used (Vancian), or how much authority the Dungeon Master has to improvise when your character want to do something not explicitly covered in the rules (infinite) … well, good luck with that.
Against this complex backdrop and into an uncertain future, Wizards of the Coast, which makes D&D, has embarked on an effort to redraw the rules once again ('cause we need you fuckin' money!). As was widely reported in January, Wizards is giving D&D a makeover, its first overhaul since 2008 (they make that seem like its a long time), when 4.0 was released (wait, what about 4.5 Essentials?) and, some say, further fractured the fan base (some say?  since when is "everyone" some?)
The project to create D&D 5.0 — or what Wizards is calling “D&D Next” — has been a cause for both bickering and hope (I bicker as I lose hope)But the company has promised to listen to players. They hired game designers from previous editions, such as Monte Cook (gone!), Bruce Cordell and Rob Schwalb, in an effort ”give a voice to the different generations of D&D.” They initiated a multi-phase play test (put phasers to STUN!). Some months ago, I had a chance to play an early version of D&D Next, Dungeon Mastered by none other than the man heading up the revamp, Mike Mearls, senior manager of Dungeons & Dragons research and development. Then came a “Friends and Family” play test phase this winter and spring for a select group of D&D players.
Now, this week, the general public playtest will kick off, beginning Thursday, May 24th. You can sign up to play here. On the eve of this new phase, I had a chance to ask Mearls some questions about the state of D&D‘s evolution, if he could reveal any sneak peeks into D&D Next and what challenges remain.
Gilsdorf: Please bring readers up to date (especially any newbies reading this) on the process to date — the previous “Friends and Family” playtest, the overall schedule, and where in the process the game design revision stands now.
Mike Mearls, senior manager of Dungeons & Dragons research and development
Mike Mearls, senior manager of Dungeons & Dragons research and development (Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast)
Mearls: The first concepts for the game arose about a year ago in a series of limited tests and proofs of concept (right after we saw the sales figures for 4e). We also played through each edition of D&D to get a sense for how the game has changed. In the fall, we started to do more work in earnest, with that material making up a closed playtest that began around the start of 2012. We used feedback from that test, along with games run at theD&D Experience convention and PAX East, to shape the next round of design. The game right now is functional within a limited array of levels (now that's an overwhelming endorsement - "Functional"). There are a few things we know that will change in short order. For instance, monsters still need some work, and the starting character hit points are a bit inflated to account for that (still working on balance). At this point, we’ve created a few different scenarios we can follow for new content based on player reaction to the first round (or second round, or third round, depending on who's counting). Depending on how that goes, we can figure out if we should debut new content or go back and revise classes and races that have been tested before. The big thing is that we’re ready to take as much time as needed to get this right. (as much time as needed, but not so much that Hasbro starts cutting our funding as we bleed cash.  4e is pretty much dead now.  The yearly WotC Christmas Purge is closer than you think.  So we have all the time in the world, but lets hurry the fuck up!)
Gilsdorf: Can you characterize the general sense of where the game in progress stands now? Is it more like classic D&D, more like 4.0? How have the rules and philosophy changed?
Mearls: In general, we’re pushing more power into the DM’s hands to run the sort of campaign that he or she prefers (Empower me Gawd Damnit!). For instance, we just talked today about a rule that lets DMs hand out bonus hit points at first level (isn't that what Hackmaster and Pathfinder do?  It's not innovation, this is what I do in my home campaign - i steal good ideas from others). The DM gets to determine if adventurers in the campaign are lucky, blessed by the gods, or otherwise destined for greatness. I’d say that in general, the game has the open-ended nature of AD&D, the character flexibility of 3e, and the clarity and ease of DMing of 4e (holy fucking shit!  trying to give all of the major editions a stroke job at the same time?!? THIS is how you bring all of the editions together?  THIS defines each of the previous editions?  Mike, when did the boys in marketing give you this line of bullshit?  Right before the interview?)
Gilsdorf: I imagine you did a lot of reading into D&D‘s history to think big picture stuff. How far back did you delve to get good ideas/best practices?
Mearls: We started at the very beginning (back in the way back, before dice, during "The Time of Chits!"), looking back at the original version of the game and even what information we could find on the games that inspired D&D. When we played each edition, starting with the original, we had a chance to see how the game evolved. The most interesting thing we learned was that the original game held up very well (ya think?), and the best parts of D&D — creativity at the table, the DM’s ability to create a unique game — were consistent in all editions. (I'm not even sure what this means)
Gilsdorf: Can you talk about which older editions were most inspirational and what about them did you like or try to incorporate into D&D Next?
Mearls: Basic D&D, the version released in 1981 and assembled by Tom Moldvay, is a big inspiration. It’s a complete game in 64 pages and covers the essence of D&D in a compact package. The original game has the basic concept of an RPG, with the idea of the DM as a combination world builder, storyteller, and umpire. AD&D added more flexibility to characters, 3e created a logical framework of rules, and 4e created a math framework for the game. All of those things are steps forward for D&D and every edition has contributed to this new iteration. (They are only steps forward when they retain the previous step - in many ways, 3e and 4e were steps backwards and forwards at the same time, for little if any net gain)
Gilsdorf: I think a lot of older gamers expressed concern about the direction 4.0 was headed vis-a-vis the balance of combat vs. storytelling and role playing. Do the new rules dictate how much role playing should be incorporated into the game? How much storytelling? How much combat?
Mearls: We’re very hands off with that stuff, instead leaving it up to the DM (again, another confusing non-statemeent from Mike the Mearls). We tend to give characters a mix of combat, exploration, and interaction abilities so that players feel that all of those areas of the game are important. The big thing I want to do for DMs is create a flexible core of rules that they can apply and modify as they wish.
Gilsdorf: In the new rules, will there be any fresh instructions on how to role play and tell stories, to help inexperienced players who might come to D&D from video games understand how to play a character, or how to DM? Or at this point is it just the rules framework you are focusing on?
Mearls: That’s the kind of thing we’ll tackle as we start thinking about final products. For now, we assume that players and DMs are at least familiar with the basics of the game.
Gilsdorf: So you have this feedback from the “Friends and Family” playtest. How did you tabulate and incorporate all of it? It sounds like a monumental task.
Mearls: We have a great team of people at Wizards who have tabulated everything, making it much easier for us to zero in on issues (we love our underpaid interns very much.  they will be our next Brand Managers after the Christmas Purge of 2012). We also rely on surveys to collect information, so we can take a look at the raw numbers. There are two ways we’ve looked at feedback so far. Sometimes, specific issues leap to the top of the to-do list because we see less than stellar feedback. In other cases, we use the results to help shape our discussions for revisions. For instance, if we have an idea for a new way to handle magic items we can check on the playtest data and see what players had to say about the current rules, then use that information to help us make our revisions.
Gilsdorf: How much feedback did you get? In the thousands of responses?
Mearls: That’s hard to tabulate (Huh!?!  How is it hard to tabulate the about of feedback you got? You received it.  You tabulated it.  That means you must have counted it. By saying you don't know, it's almost like saying you never looked). We kept our closed playtest small, with a little over a thousand people participating. They were given survey questions but also submitted written feedback. The real test will come when we begin to receive feedback from the public playtest.
Gilsdorf: My understanding is the next phase is the public open playtest. So really anyone will be able to play?
Mearls: That’s right, though as in the case of any public beta there is a play test agreement you have to agree to.  (I really want to know what the agreement says.  Can someone criticize the game if you sign the agreement?  can you discuss the rules?)
Gilsdorf: How is this handled? Do folks download materials from the D&D site?
Mearls: The materials will be available online via the D&D web site at www.dndnext.com. All you need to do is create an account on the site – if you already have one you can skip that step – and agree to the playtest terms. Once you do that, you can download the files and start playing.
Gilsdorf: How will you solicit feedback and what form will it take — surveys? Open comments on forums?
Mearls: We’re are focusing on surveys as the primary method but also hosting Live Chats, continuing playtests at key events, panels, and also paying close attention to the conversations that are coming out of our weekly articles. Surveys make it as easy as possible for people to contribute. A survey also lets us focus in on the key issues we want to examine, though of course people will have a chance to write out their thoughts and impressions. We want to give players as many outlets as we can to give us feedback.  (where is the talk of forums? blog posts?  open discussions?)
Gilsdorf: There’s been a lot of talk about the the departure of Monte Cook from the team working on this project. I’m sure you’re restricted on what you can say, but I wonder if you care to comment or respond to some of the internet chatter about what this might mean for where D&D Next is headed. What did Monte bring to the team and has he been replaced?
Mearls: Nothing has changed in terms of big picture ideas (because we've been shooting Monte's ideas down for months). The core concept behind the game was in place about a year ago, so our direction remains the same. Monte has a good sense for what makes for a fun RPG, and his big role was providing his experience on third edition (but we've decided to build the new game off of the Fourth Edition, so Monte's skills and knowledge weren't needed anymore - so said our previous play testers, who just happened to be overwhelmingly 4e players, as they are the ones with the DDI accounts that the Beta Pool was chosen from). We’ve also been relying on other team members to provide the same kind of expertise in all editions so that we can put together the kind of game that all D&D players will enjoy and appreciate. (I don't see many Grognards on their payroll)
Gilsdorf: Can you tease some of the major changes for D&D Next? (e.g. Is combat super complex with feats and super powers, or is the system more streamlined? Class? Races? Spells?)
Mearls: Here’s something people might like — we’ve created a new mechanic for rogues called schemes. Schemes tell you what sort of rogue you’re playing. You might want to be a thief, the classicD&D rogue who can sneak, steal treasure, and disarm traps. Or, you might want to play a charlatan who excels at deceit and, through trial, error, and practice, learns how to use scrolls, wands, and other magic items. (wasn't this backgrounds or themes or something else before?)
Gilsdorf: Biggest challenge thus far?
Mearls: The biggest hurdle has been trying to make sure that we can encourage more creativity, immersion, and flexibility in DMs and players. We want to have a solid set of rules, but at the same time I think D&D is at its best when the game is about the DM’s rulings rather than the actual rules. (now this is just fucking bizarre.  mike is mr. 4e.  4e is all about rules.  i'm sure there is a chart in a 4e rulebook for the time a PC needs each day to defecate and the effect of fiber on those numbers.  now he want to back track?  why?  maybe because you are having problems nailing down the rules?  don't look at my, I'm a fan of DM improvisation, but I'm not in favor of lazy rules writing) The rules are a tool that a DM uses to keep the game moving and inform decisions. The rules don’t make decisions for the DM, unless that’s how the DM wants the game to work. (but the players need to have a baseline of expectations.  that is what rules are for.  without rules, we are back to playing Cowboys & Indians and Cop & Robbers, with the same damn arguments we had when we were six)
Gilsdorf: Any other cool surprises in the new rules you can share now?
Mearls: I mentioned the rogue schemes earlier, but here’s another tidbit. Character backgrounds dictate the skills you receive, rather than your character class. Right now in the rules you could play a fighter who is also a thief, a wizard who is also an explorer, or any other combination you want. (but wasn't one of the rogue kits or whatever the fuck they were call giving thieving skills too?  I'm really confused)
Gilsdorf: When I contacted you last fall, you and your colleagues at Wizards spoke about how the major goal for this rules revamp was big picture, brand and relevance stuff — how to unite all the warring tribes; end the editions wars (The One Game to Rule Them All, and in the Darkness Bind Them); get older, lapsed players to play again; and get younger generations excited about D&D. The changes you’re talking about here seem a little smaller-scale. Can you point to some bigger-picture ways you are addressing these issues?
Mearls: The really big questions are, in some ways, still up in the air. Right now, we’re sort of heads down (in the sand), focusing on small details for the playtest. We have some fairly big ideas we’re working on in terms of RPGs as a whole, but that stuff is still fairly far off on the horizon. Right now, we really are down in the weeds in terms of details, and you’re right that the stuff we’re talking about right now is fairly small in terms of the big picture. However, that big picture still isn’t in focus. I think a mistake we made in the past was to try to make these big, grandiose statements, but in doing that we lost track of the core elements of what people enjoy about RPGs. We also ended up touting things that we couldn’t actually execute on, and no one wants that to happen again (Holy... Fucking... Shit...  With sugar on top.  "We should never have announced a system that was going to be all editions to all players, all of the time, because it just can't be fucking done".  Want to know why Monte left?  I suspect you just read the reason.  They built up these huge ass expectations.  They promised us a Playboy Centerfold and found out all they can give us is Selma from the Simpsons). With all that said, we’re definitely thinking big picture. That work is taking place, but it’s not ready for prime time.  (Notice he's said "Big Picture".  Mike wouldn't even answer the fucking question directly, and it was a pretty direct question.  That being said, he has a future in politics.  Sad.)
Gilsdorf: How are you holding up, personally? Leading this rules revision for D&D Next must be exhausting and stressful. Lots of folks wanting this to go right. I can only imagine.
Mearls: It’s definitely stressful, but it helps to have a great team of designers and editors. Plus, my wife and our menagerie of pets – two dogs and three cats – help to keep me grounded (nope, he's not getting much sleep). The best thing, though, is actually playing the game. It feels good to play through a new iteration and have a good time, or spot issues that we know we can fix. In some ways, there’s some security in having a public test. If people hate it, we are listening and make changes along the way. The biggest thing I have comes down to my attitude toward whatever my current project might be. I’m sort of like a parent who pushes a kid way too hard and expects straight As every term. I just want the game to be absolutely awesome!  (as do we all.  being that the child was introduced to the world as an infant genius, and now we'll be lucky if it doesn't get left back, expectations are suffering)
Gilsdorf: Anything else you’d like to add?
Mearls: We’re really looking forward to having people try out the playtest materials and give us their feedback. People have asked why they should care about this version of D&D when there are other versions out there. This is your chance to play a role in the development of the rules. If there has ever been anything about D&D that bugged you or some new thing you wanted in the game, now is the time to be heard!  (But will you hear us if it isn't on your site, your forms, your email?)

Phew - four pints followed by a mixed six-pack of Sam Adams Seasonal.  I think the Grump is going to be sick.  Still, I survived this PR nightmare that Mike gave us.

Mike Mearls Talks DnD Next Playtest Stuff at Wired

The Grumpy Dwarf will have much to say on this tonight. In the meantime, some quick observations.

Mike mentioned the playtest agreement twice in the article (fairly close to each other). I think I want to read this agreement's restrictions more than I actually want to read the D&D Next Playtest rules. Ain't that a kicker?

Which is later followed by my favorite quote from the whole article. It is in a excerpt of the answer to the question regarding the uniting of D&D's waring factions (fans of earlier editions).

Here's part of the quote:

I think a mistake we made in the past was to try to make these big, grandiose statements, but in doing that we lost track of the core elements of what people enjoy about RPGs. We also ended up touting things that we couldn’t actually execute on, and no one wants that to happen again. (end quote)

I think modularity is dead, at least to the extent they were touting in the beginning. I didn't think it was an achievable goal in the first place and it looks like reality has set it at WotC. Maybe this is a good sign. Too early to tell.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mini Review - Dice & Glory

Someone else said that Dice & Glory was a combination of D20 gaming and the Palladium RPG system.  I think the more accurate description would be an unholy mashup of the two... I'm not so sure if I'd want to run this as is, but I certainly could steal stuff that would fit well in numerous OSR style games.

I mean think about it, any game that starts it's Insanity & Addiction section on the 14th page of a game that numbers over 200 pages must have something worth borrowing.

Feats look to be inspired by the OGL, and the skills are definitely Palladium in flavor.  Combat is definitely inspired by Palladium.  Looking at the combat section, I don't see S.D.C. or M.D.C..  Thank the gods for that ;)

It can cover most any type of setting, from fantasy to sic-fi.  I wonder if anyone has reskinned RIFTS with Dice & Glory?

The artwork will not win any prizes.  It's better then what I can produce, but it's serviceable at it's best.

It's definitely playable, and for someone looking for a crunch heavy mashup of OGL and Palladium influences (it is definitely more than just this, but the influence is heavy), this could be what you are looking for.  Me?  I'm going to mine it for stuff to use in my current campaign.

From the blurb:

The Core Rulebook for the Dice & Glory tabletop role-playing system, a game system for those not afraid to be imaginative. This book provides all of the basic parts of the D&G system to craft your own unique worlds. This pen & paper dice based system uses reduced character classes, a stylized turn based combat system, a simplified skill system, skill-based psionics system and a unique and detailed skill-based magic/spell system. This allows Game Masters and Players near complete freedom to craft worlds and characters to their personal tastes and needs in any game setting imaginable.
The overall D&G system consists of:

  • A unique "cash-in" Experience point system where players can build fully customized characters bit-by-bit and gain points for such actions as playing in character. Experience points are used to buy such things as feats, and combat bonuses which have attached experience point costs.
  • Characters are built from initial basic character classes which generalize the character's role in the campaign and from there the player evolves them by spending experience points. The simplified character classes are: Brick, Fighter, Adventurer, Rogue, Mage, Psychic and Clergy even Classless! Character classes determine bonus HD, your primary saving throw and a single class ability.
  • A detailed but easy-to-use Combat system using its own class-like level system. Combat is turn based using a melee round system where a player gets a set number of attacks/actions per melee round and where 4 melee rounds equals 1 minute. It also uses a D20 + modifiers for resolution and defined combat maneuvers to allow customization of fighting style.
  • A skill system that is easy to use and adapt to any situation. Skill definitions are general and allow for their narrowing to a specialized purpose. Skills use points to raise their rank, are dependent on a given base attribute and use a D20 + modifiers for resolution.
  • A unique and in depth Magic system which uses a magic source system that determines if casting a spell is a skill-based check, point expenditure or limited by a number of spells per day. Spells are composed of well defined modular parameters which allow for Game Masters and players to easily learn to write their own.
  • And the skill-based Psionics distinguishes itself from the magic system no longer relegating psionics to "a poor man's magic system"! Psionic powers are skill based rolls where the difficulty is determined by a flexible list of modifiers for distance, targets and area of effect.
  • As with all Ranger Games publications this book is illustrated throughout.
The system also incorporates a detailed uncanny abilities system used for creature abilities or for use as powers in a super-hero campaign and a full chapter on constructing monsters and races for Game Masters. For those Game Masters and Players yearning for more creativity and flexibility the D&G system is what you are looking for!

Now That I Have a Few Sessions of ACKS Under My Belt, a Few Thoughts

Last Saturday was the third session of our aptly named Adventurer Conqueror King or Die! So far I am very happy with the system.

My main complaint is the confusing Throws / Rolls crap. This really didn't need to be so confusing. I've already mentally changed the system to work as every other OSR game with ascending AC does. Actually, it's how ACKS works anyway, but you wouldn't know from the wording.

I'm mentioned some of my house rules previously, so I spare you the repetition. Suffice to say, I haven't broken the system. It plays like the system would basically play untweaked. I didn't really touch anything that was core.

The Reptilian Gladiator might be a tad over powered, especially at lower levels. Our's tears through ranks of goblins like a hot knife passes through butter. Three attacks per round is nothing to sneeze at, especially when there is a strength bonus to the damage. This may require a tweak down the line (its from the Player's Companion).

Combat in general works fine without a grid. When something comes up that requires distance / facing / etc we just work it out, like in days of old.

The whole gold=expo thing, while eminently Old School in nature, was never something I was all that happy with back in my AD&D days. This too may require a tweak, whether it is increasing the expo for defeating foes, expo for completing goals, or something else. No rush on this, just thinking out loud.

It's a real pleasure playing a game with a rulebook I don't need to repeatedly refer to. The few times we needed to look up something (throwing flaming oil) I houseruled for the immediate use and let the players find the section for later.

The key to any RPG is not to get bogged down in looking up rules - pacing is key.

The tables for possible lasting injuries (or death) for going to 0 HP or lower can be brutal, but certainly add a level of suspense to combat that wouldnt be there otherwise. I wasn't sure I would like that part of the system, but I do.

I ran the first 2 session rolling my dice off screen - behind the DM Screen, if you will. Starting with the last session, it's pretty much all been on screen (except for certain rolls the players shouldn't see). Again, it just adds to the excitement of combat and other situations.

As a side note, I whole heartedly endorse DM Improvisation. I just need to make note of any improvisations that suddenly turn into House Rules ;)

It's Easier to Add Than it is to Subtract

We learned this when D&D went from descending AC to ascending AC in the transition from 2e to 3e. That was simple math.

The same applies to rule systems, especially when we are looking at what is considered "core".

What we know of D&D 5e so far is the snippets that Mike Mearls and others have posted over on the WotC website. Color me not impressed.

Why? Because many of the "systems" that they are talking about as being part of the "core" system would have worked better as optional modules (although I suspect they are no longer putting much emphasis on the "modular aspect" of 5e that was all the rage back in January and February).

At will powers for casters? Add it in as a module.

At will powers for all classes (Mike just recently mentioned this)? Add it as a module.

Self Healing after combat using a Dice Pool ("Healing Surges" using "Hit Dice" - 4e players will say it's not a healing surge and 3e and earlier players will insist we aren't talking hit dice)? Add it as a module.

When you make something part of the "core" of a game, it becomes the default baseline. It is much easier to add something optional to the baseline than to remove something that is considered "core" from the baseline.

That, in my opinion, is where D&D Next has it's main issues, it's default baseline. Needless to say, I personally default to a lower powered gaming style than fans of 4e. For 4e fans, their default baseline, their comfort zone, is much higher than mine. Where I see issues, they see their expectations being met.

There is one instance I can think of where it's Easier to Subtract then it is to Add, and that is when a game company changes the edition of it's flagship game.

The move from 3x to 4e lost the D&D franchise a significant amount of it's player base in exchange for a large boost in sales for the new rulebooks. Short term gain for a long term loss.

The move from 4e to 5e was initially attempting to cover the built in loss that occurs during edition change by attempting to make a game that would bring back some of the players of earlier editions. This would ideally have kept the numbers playing the latest edition of D&D roughly equal (or maybe even higher) than the numbers playing 4e.

It ain't gonna happen. There is little that I've seen in recent posts that's going to entice OSR or Pathfinder players to return to the D&D fold. Which means that WotC is going to shrink it's market for the yet again for a short term gain in sales (new rulebooks).

Their idea on how to cover they inevitable loss of players was admirable, but no where near attainable as WotC had first hoped.
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