Friday, July 25, 2014

RPGs - Pity About the Art

No, I am not exiting my (self-imposed) hiatus. My family still requires more attention than blogging allows at the moment, but...well, sometimes something just strikes a nerve and I've got to vent my personals all over the internet.

Somewhere back in the past, I got subscribed to an email newsletter called Story Games Weekly. I probably signed up for it 'cause they do free promotion of one's gaming products and I thought "hey, easy marketing!" Of course, I've never bothered to email them a news item or publication announcement (have I not explained before how terrible I am at self-promotion?). Anyway, I still continue to read through it every week, because there's (usually) at least three or four items that strike my interest.

This week, one blurb led me to this post by Patrick Stuart, author of Deep Carbon Observatory, in which he discusses an ideal ("utopian") framework for designing adventures (or any other gaming product). His Step One is to have a powerful idea that fires the imagination (I'm paraphrasing his thing about generating "psychic energy"). His second step? Artwork.

[*head in hands*]

I understand that Mr. Stuart is a big believer in the inspiring power of art within games. I read his essay on Art In Games, and I can grok his hypothesis. BUT...

Oh, God. How to start without seeming like a completely hopeless, obsolete luddite grognard.

[sigh...I really can't, can I?]

Back in the days of MY youth (when we had to walk ten miles to school, barefoot, in the snow...and uphill both ways, don't forget)...back then we used to have these here "adventure module" thingies that may or may not have had much in the way of great or inspiring art, but what art they had certainly had FUCKALL little to do with the adventures in which they appeared.

How many illustrations are there in The Keep on the Borderlands? Five? Not counting the cover? Again I wish I had the module with me in Paraguay so I could check. I love the Dee illo of the minotaur in the chain shirt with the spear because its badass, sure. You know what else is badass? The whole Chaotic temple complex which doesn't have (or require) a single illustration to influence your imagination. Same with the ogre encounter. Or the hobgoblin torturers. Or the kobolds with their traps and rats and spears. There's plenty of "psychic energy" to be found within the that has made B2 an adventure staple with plenty of "replay" value over the years. I can't even count the number of expeditions I've sent out to the Caves.

The artwork in these early adventures...the ones us old timers consider "classics"...was scant, and often damn misleading. I'm not just talking about the cover leaf to Keep on the Borderlands (in which a halfling wields a pole arm and the owlbear appears in a worked stone dungeon rather than its cave lair). The cover itself shows some sort of showdown with orcs in the hills...there's no such encounter. Tomb of Horrors has some sort of crowned lich on the cover...WTF? Shrine of Tamoachan's cover leaf has the party engaged with a giant bat such encounter exists. The cover for Queen of the Demonwebs depicts the party battling Lolth in a forest with a bunch of arachnid, no, this never occurs in the adventure.

Is there a single image of a fire giant in Hall of the Fire Giants? I can't recall any...but I can certainly recall several memorable NPCs from that module: the king, his decapitating queen, the torturer, a certain dwarf by the name of Obmi, and Eclavdra (of course). Oh, yeah...maybe there's one throwaway picture of a mustachioed giant with his hellhounds...but that image isn't what's firing my imagination. I'm getting enthused by my mental picture of characters trying to coax mules into harnesses to winch their beasts and spelunking gear across a subterranean river of glowing lava. The Drow with male-pattern baldness isn't nearly as inspiring as Gygax's description of the dark elves' tentacled temple.

Those illustration inserts they included with a couple of those old modules? Sure we used them, but they were gimmicky props and more often detracted from play, rather than enhancing it. Not because the art was bad or uninspiring, but because they SLOWED play (especially for adventures where the ills were keyed differently from the map key) for little real gain. Again, it wasn't a drawing of a four armed gargoyle that made Tomb of Horrors memorable to the players.

Here's how I see it, folks: artwork in gaming products is overrated.

Not unimportant, mind you: please put down your pitchforks, all my illustrator friends! Art does have importance, especially in the basic gaming manual for any setting-specific game where the author/designer is attempting to convey the mood and ambience (and express his or her own visual imaginings) to the reader. Artwork is important for understanding what a game is all about.

But I do not lend it the same importance that Stuart and the general game consuming public...lends to it. That's right, I'm not just trying to pick on one man (well, not this time anyway). I'm talking about a commercial trend that Stuart is simply providing with a high-minded justification.

I mean, who the hell is supposed to be reading the "adventure product" anyway? Who is supposed to be getting the benefit generated from the artwork therein? Last time I checked, adventures were supposed to be studied by game masters and off-limit to the players (who wanted to "explore" the adventure's mysteries). So you're going to commission a bunch of artwork for the benefit of one guy, huh?

Well sorry to waste your time, man, but I'm kind of on the same page with Jeff Rients when it comes to illustrations. Give me LESS to work with...don't fill in all the blanks for me! If you do that, how am I supposed to fire the pistons in this old and feeble mind of mine? What's more, don't give me a picture that I just show to the players and say, "here, it looks like this, you dolts!" Let me just give them a brief verbal description and allow the players' imaginations to fill in the blank spots...that way the magic and monsters and traps and perils and whatnot become more personal and more affecting to the people at the table.

What is this constant handholding? What is this coddling? Why do we not trust that players can do this imaginary heavy lifting all by themselves? Why must every single monster have an illustration...I can guess what a "giant slug" looks like! No, you do not need to paint me a picture of it!

I know, I know: I am hopelessly old and decrepit in my thought. People have "grown to expect" a certain degree of "professional polish" in their gaming product, including high quality artwork and a glossy finish. And, yes, these types of products sell better, and these types of products are more likely to find more shelf space in nicer stores, while the "amateur hour" productions are relegated to print-on-demand or ebook status.

[and, yes, Mr. Stuart, it would be nice if all the art was soulful enough to transcend the reader]

I'm not completely stupid and ignorant. I'm just a curmudgeon who can't draw.

Also, I am a curmudgeon who was very sad to learn that Greg Irons died way back in 1984, after I was considering trying to track him down for a project of mine (no not an adventure). What a talent lost!

This is great, but the D&D Coloring Book was psycoholic!

Okay, okay...I am now resuming my hiatus. You may feel free to comment, but I can't guarantee swift response. No, I'm not going to change my mind on this: any artwork in a published "adventure" should be far down on Ye Old List of Design Priorities.

[hope everyone is doing well!]

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


I am going to be on a temporary "blog hiatus" in order to attend more closely to my family. Book sales continue (thanks for the business, folks), but I will be "off-line," for at least a few weeks. Occasional announcements of releases, PDFs, etc. will still be posted here.

I'll let you know when I'm back. Promise.
: )

Cutting it off...for a while at least.

Monday, July 14, 2014


It appears blogger is fucked at the moment.

Well, I'm not going to spend four hours rewriting all THAT. Rest assured it was a beautiful bit of new architecture for B/X. Sorry.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Let's Try Reality!

[AKA Going with the Madness Part 2]

I'm done talking about Basic D&D for the foreseeable future...and thank God for that. As a means to "clear my head" a bit, I've decided to dive into the deeper end of the pool by involving my brain in Alexis's recent hit point shenanigans (those who haven't been following might consider reading his posts from July 7th till today). The gist? Monsters found in the wild, especially organized humanoid warriors (i.e. your classic orc or dwarf or whatever "soldier") should, generally, have a higher hit point per hit die than the straight 1 to 8 7 to 8 instead with the occasional 5 or 6 thrown in. Why? To reflect the fact that most of the "runts" of their species would have been weeded out in earlier battles, even assuming they'd been deemed fit for combat...and soldiers don't voluntarily send their sickly and wounded out on raids or into battles.

It's sound reasoning, and echoes Gygax's own least according to this post I read regarding EGG's (never realized) plans for the 2nd Edition AD&D:

"...As a matter of fact, adult critters were assigned 7-12 HPs per HD in my AD&D campaign -- have been given the same in what I have designed for the [Castles & Crusades] game system. Also, with increase in damage due to Strength, all large and powerful monsters, including ogres and giants, gain a damage bonus equal to their number of HD...

"...As too often "weak" monsters were randomly generated, I also planned to have robust adults possess HP totals something over 50% of the possible maximum by using a HP generation system such as 3-4, 4-6, 6-10, 7-12 using the appropriate die to determine the actual number generated -- d2, d3, d4, d5, d6. Non-robust -- immature, old, sick, injured, or even non-physically active sorts such as spell caster -- monsters would have the obverse HP range using the same type of die without addition."

Needless to say, if it makes sense to Gary, shouldn't it make sense to every Old Schooler?
; )

Now clearly, I'm not one for naturalism (Gygaxian or otherwise) or trying to seriously model "reality" in my games. "Abstract" gaming that still models a particular style (and allows for engagement in "tactics") is what I strive for. For example, in Five Ancient Kingdoms a properly equipped fighter achieves a bonus from fighting on horseback...on the other hand, I've done away with hit points for monsters, instead simply counting "wounds" inflicted against a monster's Hit Dice.

[which means, for example, that a 4HD ogre would only be felled after sustaining four "wound" being the measurement of the amount of damage needed to down a normal human. This is a throwback to the Chainmail system and what "hit dice" in monsters originally represented, BTW]

I don't try to model the nuts-and-bolts of reality...probably because (in my experience) worrying too much about the little things detract from game play. Even when one is incredibly proficient at using the AD&D books (which I once was), it can change the focus of the game, in a way that I don't find terribly fun...or rather, not as fun as my current laissez-faire attitude towards such things.

[note how I liked the whole abstract Advantage-Disadvantage thing in Basic D&D?]

That being said, there's a part of me that still enjoys the complex and occult nature of AD&D (1st edition only, thanks), and many of his modifications, such as the aforementioned HP modification as well as giving players and monsters base hit points according to mass, are sensible for this style of play. I mean, you really can't kill a whale with a sword...why not just roll with the madness?

Alexis's current system of determining HPs is: random HPs based on mass PLUS full HPs (at 1st level) for class PLUS Constitution bonus (if any) EQUALS starting hit points. Based on his table, this gives humans and dwarves an extra D8, elves an extra D6, and halflings an extra D4 HPs for mass.

[I'm using the average weights from the Basic D&D Rules, since I don't have my AD&D books with me in Paraguay. I should note humans top out at 270# which can put them in the D10 range...but that still doesn't account for folks like Andre the Giant (520#) and "Thor" Bjornsson (440#), darn it!]

440 pounds of rape and pillage.
I asked Alexis why he didn't assign a flat HP bonus based on specific mass and make the class roll random to represent the "vagaries" of how well a character might have "trained" in their adventuring profession. Welp, he feels that "mass" only provides a range of possible hit points, but the real vagaries are in how that mass is put together: body construction, overall health, and fitness.

But, hey: can't we model that with a character's ability scores?

Let's add together Strength, Dex, and Constitution to provide a human range of "fitness," and to be fair we'll give extra weight to Strength (add it twice) as it really models how developed the muscles of the body are (as opposed to Dex - which measures limberness, flexibility, and coordination - and Con, which measures fortitude and "system health"). This gives a human fitness range of 12-72, which is easy enough to divide over those eight "mass" points:
12-18 = 1 hps
19-26 = 2 hps
27-33 = 3 hps
34-41 = 4 hps
42-49 = 5 hps
50-57 = 6 hps
58-64 = 7 hps
65-72 = 8 hps

[please note: this does not account for "exceptional strength," that special province of the fighter; this would already be considered in the fighter's training, i.e. his/her extra HPs per level. Here we are only looking at "base mass" available to all humans]

[note also that there would still be a bell curve to the "mass index" as people would tend towards "average" fitness levels based on average (10.5) ability scores; it's still the extra (class) training that makes the difference for PCs]

Similar tables for the other humanoids can be easily whipped up in an Excel spread sheet. You'll have to take into account the actual range of ability scores for elves and dwarves, etc. to devise similar spreads for their "mass type die" (again, I don't have my old PHB with me, so I can't do it for you...sorry).

Now, while I can see the logic in doing HPs by "mass plus class" (can I just call this "MPC?"), and the sound reasoning of having humanoid warriors at the upper end of the HP spectrum (7-8 per die with the occasional 5 and 6), one part of Alexis's campaign that did NOT jibe with me was the randomness of weapon damage. If we are trying to make the random vagaries of fate (which exist) more consistent with reality as we know it, shouldn't something be done about this 1D8 strike from my trusty battle axe? I am truly tired of my 4th level fighter rolling an 18 to hit and then only doing "1" point of damage. And as a DM, this kind of crap already makes my combats too long to work out (and that was back before I decided to give all the orcs a boost to their HPs!).

I brought this up to Alexis as well, but he feels the potential gain from trying to model something here is outweighed by the reality of implementation (i.e. it will slow play down too much to have extra tables for weapons, which are used often, as opposed to HP determination, which is only done at character creation or upon infrequent "leveling up"). Well, perhaps here I can call upon my abstract design principles to help out!

Assuming we are using variable weapon damage (this is AD&D, right?), there's a reason why the weapons have varying die types for damage: namely, the "naturalism" of the game assumes a range of damage can be inflicted that is limited by the form of the weapon. A dagger does 1D4 and not 1D6 because its maximum damage potential is 4...that is the extent of the wound a successful attack with a dagger can inflict. A properly wielded broadsword (2D4) does at least 2 points of damage due to his weight and heft with a maximum of 8 points for a "perfect stroke." The minimum amount of damage a longsword can do is 1 (a small cut/laceration) with a maximum of 12 if plunged deep into the vitals of a large-sized creature (presumably, the longsword's maximum of 8 against man-sized creatures means the "extra" goes out the back...note that 8 is also the maximum hit points for an average massed human with no adventurer training; this is thus a "mortal blow" to even the hardiest untrained individual).

So assuming that the designers knew what they were doing when statting up these weapons (and as they were hardcore grognards and ancient weapon researchers, why shouldn't we?), we'll figure these are accurate ranges. Now we just need to minimize the variables for more consistent (*ahem* "realistic") outcomes.

We'll discard the idea of basing damage off the result of the D20 attack roll. The attack roll is already a necessary evil of abstraction in order to speed game play. Alexis has already incorporated random "crits" and "fumbles" (drops/broken weapons) into the attack roll...let's not burden the poor mechanic anymore.

Instead, we look to class and level.  In AD&D, you must choose the weapons in which you are proficient (choices being limited by class). It can be assumed that choosing a weapon proficiency means choosing to make its use part of your "adventuring repertoire" and a subject of your ongoing training; over time, with experience and practice, you familiarize yourself with the best way to use the weapon, its best techniques and maneuvers, and work to perfect your attacks and counterattacks. You LIMIT the randomness of the damage, based on your ongoing dedication to your weapon. How do we translate that? As a bonus to the weapon damage roll.

No, this is not specialization; that's something different. This bonus simply maximizes the potential of the does not increase the range of damage, but instead allows you to make the perfect attack. When you make a successful attack roll, you add your bonus to the damage roll, but the maximum damage possible (adjusted for strength and enchantment) cannot be exceeded!

For example, if my fighter receives a +3 to his longsword and rolls a 5, he turns that middling stroke into a killing blow (8). If he rolls an 8, he has already achieved the "master blow," and so no additional damage is done (unless modified for Strength or the weapon's +2 nature).

Class and level provides the means for determining the damage bonus (with the understanding that this bonus only applies to weapons in which the character is proficient). Personally, I would base it on the same rate of advancement as the AD&D combat tables:

Clerics: +1 for every three levels
Fighters: +1 for every two levels
Magic-Users: +1 for every five levels
Thieves: +1 for every four levels

I would also consider awarding the bonus for weapons from 1st level, at least for the fighter class; in other words, a fighter would receive a +1 damage bonus with all proficient weapons at 1st level, +2 at 3rd level, +3 at 5th level, +4 at 7th level, etc. (the other classes have too much else "on their plate" at 1st level, but their weapon training would proceed thereafter). Note: this has the built-in effect of making the more complex weapons more challenging to learn. A person can become a deadly knife-fighter long before they master the sword.

Ahhh. Sweet reality.
: )

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Wizard Worth Playing (Part 3)

[continued from here]

In addition to the spells detailed above, all beginning wizards know three additional spells of incredible power: Planar Gate, Sky Strike, and Transmutation. These spells are collectively known as Mighty Magics, and special rules apply to their use.

First, no more than ONE mighty magic may be cast in a single day (i.e. prior to a "long rest"); a wizard that decides to call down a meteor shower isn't going to be opening any portals later on. The casting is extremely taxing; the wizard cannot cast additional spells after the performance of a mighty magic until he/she has has at least a "short rest."

Second,  a mighty magic has a casting time of ONE MINUTE (unlike the earlier spells, which all have casting times of one action). That means it requires 10 melee rounds to finish the casting of a mighty magic; they are not "spur of the moment" spells.

Third, a mighty magic is extremely complicated and there's no guarantee it can be cast successfully; wizards must succeed at an Arcana skill check for the mighty magic to succeed. The difficulty of the check is equal to 10 + magnitude at which the spell is being cast. Failure burns the spell slot and the use of the mighty magic for the day; however, it does NOT mean "nothing happens." A failed check for mighty magic indicates that something was "off" in the casting: the spell occurs, but not as intended. A sky strike might hit the wizard's tower, instead of the invading army; a portal opens to the wrong location or entices the wrong being to enter the mortal realm. It is up to the DM to decide just how horrendous the failure is, based on the magnitude attempted and the degree by which the wizard failed. Mighty magic is difficult stuff to control, and its use should always carry risk.

Finally, casting a mighty magic drains the very life force of the wizard. Human (and part-human) wizards age a number of years equal to the magnitude of the mighty magic spell cast; non-humans (elves, dwarves, halflings) age a number of decades equal to the magnitude of the mighty magic spell. It is unusual for wizards to cast many mighty magics during their lifetime; those that do have good reason for doing so.

PLANAR GATE: creates an opening onto another plane of existence. The portal on the caster's plane opens within 20 yards of the wizard's location and sight. If the true name (not a nickname, title, or pseudonym) of a being on the other plane is spoken, the portal opens in that creature's vicinity and it is drawn to come through to the wizard's side, arriving within D10 melee rounds (others may choose to use the portal as well). If the duration ends before the creature arrives, the portal closes and the calling fails. Deities and planar rulers may always cause the spell to fail, if they so choose. Portal is only one-way (other plane to wizard's plane) except at 5th through 9th magnitudes. Magnitude determines size and duration of portal. Killing the wizard ends the spell prematurely.
1st Magnitude: up to 1' diameter, duration is 2 rounds
2nd Magnitude: up to 3' diameter, duration is 3 rounds
3rd Magnitude: up to 5' diameter, duration is 4 rounds
4th Magnitude: up to 7' diameter, duration is 5 rounds
5th Magnitude: two-way portal (wizards and or others can cross to the other plane; up to 9' diameter, duration is 6 melee rounds
6th Magnitude: up to 12' diameter, duration is 7 rounds
7th Magnitude: up to 15' diameter, duration is 8 rounds
8th Magnitude: up to 18' diameter, duration is 9 rounds
9th Magnitude: up to 21' diameter; duration is 10 melee rounds (calling is always successful)

SKY STRIKE: the wizard calls down a fiery meteor strike from the heavens (range is sight limited to about one mile; spell can only be performed outdoors). Magnitude determines size and number of meteors that strike within range. Damage is two-fold (bludgeoning impact and fire) to those within the blast radius, but a successful save is allowed to halve the damage. Targets take damage from the spell only once, even if caught within overlapping blasts (collateral damage caused by the massive destruction is another matter).
1st Magnitude: one small meteor (blast radius 10'); 5D6 impact damage + 5D6 fire damage
2nd Magnitude: one large meteor (radius 20'); 10D6 impact damage + 10D6 fire damage
3rd Magnitude: two large meteors (radius 20'); 10D6 impact damage + 10D6 fire damage
4th Magnitude: three large meteors (radius 20'); 10D6 impact damage + 10D6 fire damage
5th Magnitude: four large meteors (radius 20'); 10D6 impact damage + 10D6 fire damage
6th Magnitude: one huge meteor (radius 40'); 20D6 impact damage + 20D6 fire damage
7th Magnitude: two huge meteors (radius 40'); 20D6 impact damage + 20D6 fire damage
8th Magnitude: three huge meteors (radius 40'); 20D6 impact damage + 20D6 fire damage
9th Magnitude: four huge meteors (radius 40'); 20D6 impact damage + 20D6 fire damage

Uh-oh...shouldn't have pissed off the wizard!
TRANSMUTATION: wizard transforms one object into another; the change is indefinite (until dispelled). Objects are classified as either animal, plant, or mineral, whether animate or not. Magnitude determines the size of an object that can be transformed and the degree of change. Creatures unwilling to be transformed receive saving throws. Class abilities can never be gained from this spell (no transforming the party thief into a cleric, for example, or a low-level fighter into a high-level fighter) as those are a product of learning and experience. NOTE: wizards can never be the object of their own transmutation spell.
1st Magnitude: a small object (animal: small dog/large cat; plant: house plant; mineral: ring/coin sized) can be changed into an equal classification (i.e. animal to animal, like a cat to a dog) of equal size. The creature's basic nature doesn't change; the creature's gender, mind, and instincts remain the same (for example, a neutered cat would become a neutered dog of the same size, hps, and combat ability; it would try to climb trees, play with yard, and stalk birds/mice), nor can a creature that was dead be given life (or vice versa). Likewise, abilities would be retained unless the form precludes them (a bird changed to a frog has no wings to fly, and would not know how to swim or catch flies...though it could learn). "Basic nature" includes the properties of plants (as ingredients or herbs...a dandelion transformed to garlic would not affect a vampire) or the value of minerals (lead cannot be transformed into a precious metal, for example). Magical objects may not be transformed.
2nd Magnitude: as 1st magnitude, but larger objects can be transformed; animals up to the size of a small humanoid, plants the size of a small shrub (or enough to fit a large sack), minerals up to six pounds in weight (the size of a sword or shield, or what would fit in a large pouch). Again, the nature of the thing would not change: a shield could be changed into a helmet, but not a sword (because its purpose is to protect, not to harm); value (lead into gold, etc.) and life/death cannot be changed.
3rd Magnitude: as 2nd magnitude, but some one or two aspects of a creature's nature can be changed (male to female, wine to syrup, helmet to sword). Mental abilities, skills, hit points, and fighting ability cannot be changed.
4th Magnitude: as 3rd magnitude, but larger objects can be changed; animals up to ogre sized, plants up to a small tree; minerals up to the size of a suit of armor. All abilities of the form's new nature are now gained.
5th Magnitude: as 4th magnitude but now solids can be changed to liquids and liquids to solids.
6th Magnitude: as 5th magnitude but larger (animals up to dragon-sized, plants up to size of small wooden shack or large tree, minerals up to large (ogre-sized) boulder, and change can affect objects basic mobility/animation (for example, a person can be transformed into the semblance of a statue, unable to move or act, while an inanimate object can be caused to move about on its own at the direction of the wizard). Valuable minerals (metals and gemstones) can be lowered in worth (or made worthless altogether) at this magnitude. Animals can be made younger or older.
7th Magnitude: as 6th magnitude, but now inanimate objects can be given a degree of independent action (a tree can be given the mobility to strike with its branches and given the task of guarding a path; a broom can be given the task of "sweeping up," a boulder can be commanded to only roll aside for the wizard and his friends, etc.). Objects transformed now take on the personality and instincts of their new form. Base minerals can be made valuable (rocks to gems and iron to gold, for example), with a gold piece limit of 1000 per use of the spell.
8th Magnitude: as 7th magnitude, but now objects can be transformed between classifications: an animal can be turned into a plant or mineral type, for example. Gold piece limit on valuables created is now 10,000.
9th Magnitude: transforms any object (including magical objects) into any other type of object, and the living can be made dead (and vice versa). While magical items can be transformed into mundane objects (or items with similar powers...for example a cloak of invisibility into a hat of invisibility or an invisible monster), mundane objects cannot be given magical powers using this spell with the exception of weapons and armor which can be given the equivalent of +1 ability. Gold piece limit on valuables created is 100,000 at this magnitude.

[how's that for awesome?]

This then concludes the changes I'd make to bring the character class in line with the description presented for "wizards." Additional abilities (like crafting magic items, brewing potions, spell research, etc.) could still be made available at higher levels...but they're not "advertised" as basic to the class.

Feel free to play test.
; )

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Interlude: Nitpicking

On my other post, Monkapotomus commented:
"Outside that one overly prosaic description if they have read the rest of the manual up to that point then they should know that they are going to start out as beginner adventurers and work their way up. It shouldn't be much of a surprise.  
"I honestly don't think most people coming in to this would expect to be able to do those crazy things right off the bat."
He goes on to say that folks should have assumed references from video games and whatnot, though that's quite an assumption. I'd let my children play Dungeons & Dragons long before I'd give them access to any computer role-playing game, with their propensities for screen violence and over-sexualized characters.

[they can spend their own money on that when they're adults...if they want]

Look, it's not a "big deal," folks, but it is a "deal." I already posted the description for the fighter class. Here are the Basic D&D descriptions for the cleric and the rogue:


"Clerics are intermediaries between the mortal world and the distant planes of the gods. As varies as the gods they serve, clerics strive to embody the handiwork of their deities. No ordinary priest, a cleric is imbued with divine magic."

Pretty straight and too the point, no? Nothing extra thrown in to "spice it up." No false promises made. Here's the other:


"Rogues rely on skill, stealth, and their foes' vulnerabilities to get the upper hand in any situation. They have a knack for finding the solution to just about any problem, demonstrating a resourcefulness and versatility that is the cornerstone of any successful adventuring party."

A little more hyperbole than the cleric, but still not saying they can turn invisible or read magic scroll or auto-kill the toughest monsters with a single stab of their short sword, right?

Look, it's not a big deal, but the wizard's description IS a damn inconsistency compared to the other class descriptions AND false advertising to boot. To paraphrase Shlominus (who, granted, was speaking mainly to the lack of innovation): we should expect more from the biggest brand name in the RPG industry. Give me some damn consistency.

Okay, we'll now get back to rewriting Mearls's wizard class to match his description. Sorry for the tangent (again).

A Wizard Worth Playing (Part 2)

[continued from here]

All wizards have knowledge of the following seven spells: arc lightning, conjure monster, explosive fire, mind control, necromancy, prophetic vision, and sensory deception. These spells are known by the wizard and are always considered "prepared." When wizards decide to cast a spell they choose the magnitude at which the spell is cast from one of their remaining allowance of spell slots (for example, a 1st level wizard has two spell slots of the first magnitude...modified by INT...which can be used). Once the spell slots are expended, the wizard may cast no other spells without first resting.

ARC LIGHTNING: a bolt of electricity streams from the wizard to a target; magnitude determines range and damage. Targets may save to reduce damage by one-half, but save is made with disadvantage if wearing metal armor. Targets that fail to save are also stunned for one round.
1st Magnitude: 2D8 damage; 10 yards
2nd Magnitude: 4D8 damage; 20 yards
3rd Magnitude: 6D8 damage; 30 yards
4th Magnitude: 8D8 damage; 40 yards
5th Magnitude: 10D8 damage; 50 yards (maximum range)
6th Magnitude: 10D8 damage; fork bolt (strike up to 3 additional targets within 10 yards of initial target; no target may receive more than one strike)
7th Magnitude: 11D8 damage; fork bolt (strike up to 4 additional targets)
8th Magnitude: 12D8 damage; fork bolt (strike up to 5 additional targets)
9th Magnitude: 13D8 damage; fork bolt (strike up to 6 additional targets)

Probably 4th or 5th magnitude.
CONJURE MONSTER: calls forth beings from other dimensions to do the wizard’s bidding. All such creatures (regardless of type/appearance) are otherworldly and may be dispelled; they otherwise last until killed or until the next day (or “long rest”). Magnitude determines number and hit dice of creature conjured.
1st Magnitude: one creature of 2HD or D4 of 1HD
2nd Magnitude: one creature of 4HD or D4 of 2HD
3rd Magnitude: one creature of 6HD or D6 of 3HD
4th Magnitude: one creature of 8HD or D6 of 4HD
5th Magnitude: one creature of 10HD or D8 of 5HD
6th Magnitude: one creature of 12HD or D8 of 6HD
7th Magnitude: one creature of 14HD or D10 of 7HD
8th Magnitude: one creature of 16HD or D10 of 8HD
9th Magnitude: one creature of 18HD or D12 of 9HD

EXPLOSIVE FIRE: the wizard hurls a ball of fire up to 30 yards that explodes; magnitude determines fire damage to those caught within its 20’ radius (save for half damage).
1st Magnitude: 2D6 damage
2nd Magnitude: 4D6 damage
3rd Magnitude: 6D6 damage
4th Magnitude: 8D6 damage
5th Magnitude: 10D6 damage
6th Magnitude: 12D6 damage
7th Magnitude: 14D6 damage
8th Magnitude: 16D6 damage
9th Magnitude: 18D6 damage

MIND CONTROL: wizard invades and subverts the mind of another. Must look into target’s eyes (maximum range 30’) unless possessing a piece of the creature (hair, nails, skin) or treasured personal effect (like a PC’s “trinket”). Magnitude determines extent of control on a failed saving throw; ability to obey commands will largely depend on the wizard’s ability to communicate with the subject.
1st Magnitude: subjects considers wizard to be a good friend and is helpful
2nd Magnitude: subject may be commanded to do things it would normally do
3rd Magnitude: subject may be commanded to do things it wouldn’t normally do (guards will release prisoners in their charge, non-combatants will fight, etc.)
4th Magnitude: subject will harm loved ones or put their own lives in grave peril
5th Magnitude: as 4th magnitude, but with telepathic control
6th Magnitude: subject will commit suicide upon command
7th Magnitude: subject will commit unspeakable acts of violence against self and loved ones, including flaying, mutilation, etc.
8th Magnitude: wizard can control victim like puppet (shared language unneeded)
9th Magnitude: absolute control; memory and personality can be permanently altered or “wiped” (reducing character’s level down to 1st if so desired)

NECROMANCY: wizard exhibits power over the dead, raising them to obey his commands. The creature must be in relatively good condition (i.e. recently dead), and is considered a zombie with one hit die more than it had in life. Humans and other man-sized humanoids (elves, dwarves) are considered to have one HD for this purpose and so become 2HD zombies, regardless of their original level; smaller creatures (halflings, house cats) become 1HD zombies. The magnitude determines the number of zombie HD that can be raised with one casting of the spell; higher magnitude spells allow more creatures (or larger creatures) to be raised. If the roll is less than needed to raise a particularly large creature, the spell fails.
1st Magnitude: 2 HD (one human zombie)
2nd Magnitude: D6+1 HD of zombies
3rd Magnitude: 2D4 HD of zombies
4th Magnitude: 2D6 HD of zombies
5th Magnitude: 2D8 HD of zombies
6th Magnitude: 2D10 HD of zombies
7th Magnitude: 2D12 HD of zombies
8th Magnitude: 2D20 HD of zombies
9th Magnitude: D100 HD of zombies

PROPHETIC VISION: the wizard gains knowledge of what the future holds. Actions may be taken to change the course of the future, and being forewarned is forearmed (for example, the wizard can receive advantage on a saving throw based on the vision). Magnitude determines the extent of the knowledge gained.
1st Magnitude: vague feelings (good/reward, bad/danger, or neutral) regarding a single, specific course of action (taking the left-hand tunnel, picking up the crown, etc.)
2nd Magnitude: single, specific mental image (sleeping dragon, corpse killed by arrow) based on course of action examined
3rd Magnitude: specific mental scene of possible outcome of action, including movement and sound (party fighting a particular monster; how a trap is triggered and its effects).
4th Magnitude: specific information regarding any particular goal or action intended in the next day; up to two scenes (as per 3rd magnitude) will be revealed
5th Magnitude: as 4th magnitude but can examine the course of actions for a week in advance; three scenes will be revealed to the wizard
6th Magnitude: as 4th magnitude but can examine the course of actions for a month in advance; four scenes will be revealed to the wizard
7th Magnitude: as 4th magnitude but can examine the course of actions for a year in advance; five scenes will be revealed to the wizard
8th Magnitude: as 4th magnitude but can examine the course of actions for a decade in advance; six scenes will be revealed to the wizard
9th Magnitude: as 4th magnitude but can examine the course of action as it relates to future generations, up to a century from the time of casting; seven scenes will be revealed

SENSORY DECEPTION: the wizard can alter the perception and senses of all those within his presence; unless stated otherwise affect lasts as long as caster takes no action besides normal movement, and as long as the wizard remains within sight of the effect. Wizards can dispel their own permanent illusions at will.
1st Magnitude: wizard may alter one sensory component; changing a sound (like dripping water to sound like a roaring fire) or a smell (rotten food to smell delicious) or vision (changing his own appearance). The sensory deception will have roughly the same size as the original: a trickle of water cannot be made to sound like a thundering waterfall, and an elf wizard cannot appear to be an ogre.
2nd Magnitude: wizard may “hide in plain view,” being ignored by all unless attacking or otherwise disturbing those in his/her vicinity (“disturbance” need not be physical; carrying a light source into the den of creatures used to the dark would count).
3rd Magnitude: wizard may create illusions from nothing, with both sound and sight components; it lasts as long as the wizard concentrates. The illusion has no tactile sensation and cannot harm others.
4th Magnitude: as 1st or 2nd magnitude, but may be extended to D4 senses/individuals
5th Magnitude: wizard may make himself, or another, or a single object of large size or smaller completely imperceptible to others (as the invisible condition, but without tracks or noise)
6th Magnitude: as 3rd magnitude, but lasts even without concentration (until dispelled)
7th Magnitude: as 5th magnitude, but lasts even without concentration (until dispelled)
8th Magnitude: as 7th magnitude, but the deception extends even to massive objects (castles, purple worms)
9th Magnitude: as 8th magnitude, but deception removes tactile sensation as well, effectively turning the object or creature into a permanent ghost (saving throws apply for an unwilling creature)

[we'll deal with the "mighty magics" in our next be continued]

A Wizard Worth Playing (Part 1)

[this is something I was thinking about yesterday morning, but I was distracted all day...sorry]

Imagine you're a new player to Dungeons & Dragons: one of those people WotC/Hasbro is hoping to "bring into the fold" to grow the hobby. You've heard about the game, you have a vague idea about tabletop RPGs and what D&D (specifically) is. So you go to WotC's "Learn to Play" section on their web site and download a copy of the Basic D&D rules. Sure, it's incomplete, but perhaps you're not interested in being a DM just yet, and you live somewhere other than Asuncion, Paraguay where people have never had of role-playing (fast Paraguayan fun-fact: the highway to the international airport was still just a dirt road until a decade ago or so!), and you figure you'll be able to find some game to join as a player.

You read the section of the rules on races and there's a helluva' lot o stuff you don't particularly figure "human" will be your best bet to start. You then read the descriptions for the classes; figuring they'll give you an idea of your options and cutting down on your reading (because you can just worry about the two-three pages of "rules" for the one class you decide is best). Having come to the game due to a love of fantasy adventure, the wizard class is a natural draw, and you are excited by the description of the class and its abilities:
"Wizards are supreme magic-users, defined and united as a class by the spells they cast. Drawing on the subtle weave of magic that permeates the cosmos, wizards cast spells of explosive fire, arcing lightning, subtle deception, and brute-force mind control. Their magic conjures monsters from other planes of existence, glimpses the future, or turns slain foes into zombies. Their mightiest spells change one substance into another, call meteors down from the sky, or open portals to other worlds."
[the depictions of example wizards preceding this passage describe these powers, specifically the explosive fire, the glimpsing the future, and the opening portals to other worlds]

'Hot damn,' you say. 'This is EXACTLY the kind of thing I want to do in the game! Sign me UP!'

Now, as I mentioned before, you will be in for a rude shock when you discover what your character's abilities actually entail (duh...sucker!). Long time players of D&D will probably snicker at your ignorance and naiveté ('You think you get all that power at level one? Ha ha!') and if you decide to stick with the wizard class (as opposed to something simpler like a dwarf fighter), you'll soon enough find yourself in the predictable role of hanging out in the back and letting the rest of the party bail you out of jams for however long it takes to level up a couple one commentators estimate about 18 encounters (which could mean five game sessions if WotC's old "average four encounters per session" holds up) to reach 900xp and 3rd level. For weekly play, that means a bit more than a month of suck in order to "pay your dues;" and that's just to get a second level spell (like flaming sphere). Third level spells (like fireball or lightning bolt) don't come till 5th level, which requires a whopping 6500xp!!!

[just a side note: has anyone really taken a close look at Basic D&D's advancement chart? There are some crazy figures in there!]

Now what Basic D&D just gave you what they advertised? Wouldn't that be cooler?

Here's how it would work:

Still wondering why we don't wear metal armor?
Wizards begin play with the following magic knowledge (instead of the 3 cantrips and 6 1st level spells): explosive fire, arc lightning, subtle deception, mind control, conjure monster, glimpse future, necromancy, transmute substance, sky strike, and open portal.  The character still has a total of nine spells, the latter three of which we'll give the additional connotation "mighty."

Now personally, I think there are too many spell slots provided in the wizard table, so I'd probably limit it to 3 spells per spell slot, regardless of level, though with bonus spell slots equal to the INT modifier. You can carry out the table yourself if you want, but I mean it would look like this:

1st level: two 1st magnitude spell slots
2nd level: three 1st magnitude slots
3rd level: three 1st magnitude slots, two 2nd magnitude slots
4th level: three 1st magnitude slots, three 2nd magnitude slots
5th level: three 1st magnitude slots, three 2nd magnitude slots, two 3rd magnitude slots

...proceeding as listed but never more than 3 in any particular magnitude. The INT modifier would give additional "slots" to be split between all magnitudes known. For example, a wizard with an INT 16 (+3 modifier) would have three additional 1st magnitude slots (1 x 3), but at 3rd level could split those between 1st and 2nd magnitude (i.e. one extra 1st mag slot + one extra 2nd mag slot). At 5th level, that +3 modifier could all be poured into a single 3rd mag (3 x1).

[that last bit regarding INT modifier is admittedly extra complex...probably, I'd simply go with "For every +1 of INT modifier, cast one extra spell per day from any one spell slot that does not exceed the character's maximum allowable magnitude; a bonus spell from high INT may not be of a magnitude greater than the character's total INT bonus." Since PCs in Basic D&D are limited to an INT of 20 (+5), that would mean an extra 5th magnitude spell would be the maximum one could pick-up]

The spells available to the wizard remain the same (unless the player wants to engage in spell research), but the EFFECT of the spell varies depending on the magnitude at which it is cast. I've got to leave at the moment, but the next part of this post will detail the spells at their various magnitudes.

[to be continued]

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rifts - Duh, Duh, DUH

Let's hate on something different for just a minute.

It's 2am, and I'm having a 2nd glass of wine (after many beers today). O World Cup, you really haven't disappointed this year, what with the 7-1 smack down of Brazil (whom I dislike) by Germany (which is the team I always root for after the U.S. and Mexico are inevitably kicked from the tournament). The wife is out o town (with the baby) and D is asleep and I've just been surfing the blogs and whatnot for the last 90 minutes or so (Bikini Armor Battle Damage on tumblr is pretty funny...and depressing as well). old son of a bitch.

I was thinking about it this evening, and I have probably spent more of my hard-earned money on Rifts than any other game system in my entire life, including Dungeons & Dragons. One thing about D&D, many of my TSR books were acquired as gifts when I was a youngster (from friends and family for birthdays and Christmas and whatnot), and while I did acquire the 3rd edition core and several of the "splat" (class) books, I really never invested heavily into its other stuff, and a lot of older edition stuff I've picked up was purchased used, or been indefinitely lent by folks.

Rifts on the other hand...well, that's stuff I tend to buy new. And then sell of in disgust. And then re-buy new. Because I have some sort of problem with Palladium games. Really...Palladium is like crack: a cheap high that doesn't last long and is O-So-Bad for you, with nothing really to redeem it. Hell, it ain't even all hard cover and glossy like White Wolf's stuff (I spent a ton of money on Vampire back in the 90's, but things were cheaper than and I never did the sell/re-buy thing)...there's no glamor in a softcover with B&W interior that curls up at the edges.

Palladium system is the ghetto RPG.

It's also the kind of shady drug you don't like to tell people about. I mean, you run into players often enough (Palladium's sold well enough to stay in business this long) but Palladium people always seem a little embarrassed to admit their enjoyment of the game. Fact of the matter is, I've found it hard to even PLAY Palladium games...all the Rifts "campaigns" I've started have invariably  ended after a single session, and I've never known ANY gamers who could really "stick with it" least not since high school (and I'm talking freshman/sophomore year high school).

[man...I sure did write a lot of Palladium-related posts back in 2009]



Sorry...fell asleep. AND woke up late. What was I saying?

Here's the thing...this is what I was trying to get to last night/this's The Thing: I almost wish (almost!) that Palladium would fold and the game fall from the realms of print so that folks could start "cloning" the hell out of it. Cloning it without the threat of lawsuits.

Of course I do NOT wish the failure of a business on anyone, especially not Mr. Siembieda who has produced so much creative, inspirational work over the decades. This isn't really about hating on Palladium or its policies or its Head Honcho. But, man o man: if Rifts was available for cloning? To take the setting and run it with a system that's a bit more coherent? It would be so damn easy!

I mean, it already has a class/level structure (because Palladium was originally a D&D knock-off/'re not going to convince me otherwise). It already has D20 combat (if overly complex combat) and hit points and whatnot. The ability scores and adjustments not terribly dissimilar from what you'd find in D&D (duh); tightening the game would be a piece of easy.

Of course, I'm sure a lot of independent publishers were licking their chops at this very prospect during the heyday of D20 and the OGL.

The obvious workaround is the usual one, I suppose...file the "serial numbers" off everything and publish it without using the trademarked IP or copyrighted material. Yeah, easy enough: that's pretty much what I did with Cry Dark Future after all (a cyberpunk-B/X mash-up heavily "reminiscent" of Shadowrun). It's what Bezio's X-Plorers appears to be (with its heavy resemblance of Star Frontiers...though minus the vrusk and dralasites).

But you know, one of the reasons why CDF hasn't actually found its way to publication yet is the sheer degree by which it resembles Shadowrun...and I want it to be a little more different. I mean, it IS different (*sheesh* I have some original ideas...). Yes, I was able to simply and elegantly (I feel) 'port the chargen system (circa 3rd edition SR) into a B/X chassis, but that carries with it the major flaw of the SR chargen system, i.e. the time taken to kit out characters with a high priority in resources (money)...not to mention the all-too-often accounting errors.

And besides: shouldn't a B/X style system really include halflings? Halflings with machine guns (or rocket launchers or bionic limbs) just sound awesome. And much as I like the orc and troll options, aren't those guys supposed to be "monsters?"

Maybe, maybe not. I just haven't had time (or rather taken the time) to work out an original setting for the is nearly entirely derivative from its inspiration. I'm not certain I'm entirely on board with all that 5th World jazz.

And I don't want to make the same mistake again. There is a lot of dumb-dumb stuff in Rifts (or a Rifts-like game). Even adapting Mutant Future (itself almost derivative of its Gamma World source material) doesn't seem right, with its species-specific classes. Not that I object to race-as-class, mind you (and Rifts, too, has RCCs, i.e. "racial character classes")...but the fact that it divides adventurers into Men of Arms (various types), Men of Magic (various types), Scholars & Adventurers (various types), makes the thing just scream for a more traditional D&D type treatment.

Really like the air-powered spear guns.
A long, loooong while ago I was considering the idea of a post-apocalyptic world setting of the type found in the psychedelic PA art of the 60s and 70s. Things like Bakshi's Wizards and Heavy Metal Magazine. Something weird without being gonzo...where "mutant" is an epithet, not a source of X-Man-style superpowers. Dyson Logos did a great series on the (first) animated film, Heavy Metal, and how its disparate stories could be shuffled together to create a coherent and exciting setting for a Mutant Future/Gamma World campaign, and it provided a big push of inspiration...but at the time, I was more concerned with getting my B/X Companion book completed. The idea got dropped along with a lot of other "neat" ones.

[it doesn't help that I get side-tracked by cyborgs...and creating cool game mechanics for cyborgs...every time I get within spitting distance of their possible inclusion. Is my "borg love" a subconscious thing caused by my childhood fandom of the Six Million Dollar Man? No clue]

Now, the idea is back...but Palladium is still there, looming with its massive pile of Rifts "stuff" (ideas, concepts). Ready to pounce with a pack of lawyers at the very whiff of treading on their trademarked toes. Hogging all the post-apoc, mutant-magic mash-up potential.

Except, of course, the concept of such a setting isn't original to Siembieda and Rifts. Post-apocalyptic settings that include both can be found in sword & sorcery fiction. It even found a home on Saturday morning television with Thundarr the Barbarian, my absolute favorite cartoon of all-time (yes, yes, I was a big fan of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon back in the day). I know that Thundarr was adapted to at least one game system ("Under a Broken Moon," using the mechanics from Over the Edge), and maybe Savage Worlds, too. I suppose that a big difference between something like Thundarr and Rifts (besides the obvious) is that Thundarr and its ilk offers no explanation for the emergence of magic in its post-apocalyptic world, while Rifts goes out of its way to create an elaborate justification for the presence of the supernatural...even though the latter proceeds to go all wonky and inconsistent with its various different styles of magic (to make no mention of psychics).

What I probably need to do, instead of filing the serial numbers off Rifts or producing a different spin on Mutant Future, is create my own class/level game set in to post-apoc world. But, dammit, hasn't that already been done before? That's the whole reason why I wrote MDR (not yet available) using the DMI system...because I wanted a post-apoc system that had some heart and something different from the same old, same old fantasy adventurer tropes.

But, man do I love my fantasy adventure tropes.

Ugh. Round and round and round it goes. Maybe what I REALLY need to do, is make a list of all the things I HATE in existing post-apocalyptic games, and then write something that doesn't include those. Hmmm...

Yeah...that's the ticket. Sorry to all my readers that had to wade through the dross of my stream-o-consciousness rambling. I now have a mission.
: )

[congrats to Argentina, BTW...see you in the final]

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

DND5E - Good Parts (Kind Of)

All right...while the thoughts on my mind this morning are running towards post-apocalyptic gaming (specifically regarding Rifts and Mutant Future), I did say I'd give a rundown of the things I like about the (incomplete) Basic D&D Rules, and I'm really trying to follow-through when it comes to these promised blog posts.

Note: I'm talking about the things that I like...things that catch my interest or seem to be of promising game value. But I want to avoid an "in-depth analysis" because A) the published rules are incomplete and thus difficult to judge anyway without making assumptions of game play, and B) I tend to derail myself when I allow any time to diatribe on the negative.

NOTE: Monsters not included.
For example (here I go!): I could probably fill several pages with the "word padding" one finds in these "basic" rules (something responsible for taking the text of an incomplete game up to over 100 pages sans illustrations). Let me give you a short example/comparison:

Holmes Basic description of the magic-user class: No description provided (presumably one is to assume it is a character that "uses magic").

Moldvay Basic description of the magic-user class: "Magic-users are humans who, through study and practice, have learned how to cast magic spells. Merlin the Magician was a famous magic-user."

Mearls Basic description of the "wizard" class: "Wizards are supreme magic-users, defined and united as a class by the spells they cast. Drawing on the subtle weave of magic that permeates the cosmos, wizards cast spells of explosive fire, arcing lightning, subtle deception, and brute-force mind control. Their magic conjures monsters from other planes of existence, glimpses the future, or turns slain foes into zombies. Their mightiest spells change one substance into another, call meteors down from the sky, or open portals to other worlds."

This description is only after three full paragraphs describing different magic-users doing various things. It's a quarter-page of flavor text that doesn't contribute any actual rules...and it's disingenuous besides! Why? Because it describes abilities that are unavailable to the beginning wizard!

Compare that to the (equally wordy) fighter class: "All these heroes are fighters [referring to the preceding examples], perhaps the most diverse class of characters in the worlds of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. Questing knights, conquering overlords, royal champions, elite foot soldiers, hardened mercenaries, and bandit kings -- as fighters, they all share an unparalleled mastery with weapons and armor, and a thorough knowledge of the skills of combat. And they are well acquainted with death, both meeting it out and staring it defiantly in the face."

Ignoring the hyperbole, the description tells a beginning player exactly what they get if they sign up to play the fighter class. An "unparalleled mastery with weapons and armor" (none of the other classes begin with the same proficiency in weapons and armor), a "thorough knowledge of skills of combat" (they are better at fighting than any other class), "well acquainted with death" (they will deal more damage in combat and will probably take more damage as "tanks" for the party).

Now say I'm a beginning player and I read the description of the wizard. 'Hey, that sounds pretty cool!' says I, 'I can create explosions and brutally control minds and conjure demons and animate zombies! Sign me up!' But is that what I get?

No. I start the game knowing three cantrips and carrying a spell book containing all of six 1st level spells. Sure, there's a cantrip called fire bolt which hurls "a mote of fire at a creature or object" (not exactly 'explosive'). There's charm person which turns a creature into "a friendly acquaintance" (not exactly 'brute-force mind control'). But I definitely don't see anything resembling zombie mastery, monster conjuration, or glimpsing the future; there's no ability to cast "mighty magics" with meteors and whatnot to start. Don't sell me a load of bull on what I WILL do...tell me what I CAN do...because who knows how long I'm going to play this game before I get tired of casting sleep spells and frost rays.

Okay, OKAY...I said I'd get to the things I like in the game and I meant it. We'll do our best to skip the irritating parts from here on:

First, a couple things that aren't exactly game mechanics (and are thus kind of "neutral"):

  • The introduction ain't bad (especially the How To Play section -- fairly clear), and my eye was especially caught by this part: "The adventurers grow in might as the campaign continues. Each monster defeated, each adventure completed, and each treasure recovered not only adds to the continuing story, but also earns the adventurers new capabilities" (my emphasis added). Does this mean a return to XP for treasure found? Now there's a nice "Old School" touch!
  • Mearls changed his three pillars from "exploration, roleplaying, and combat" to "exploration, social interaction, and combat." Nice when folks listen to at least half of what I say.
  • Fewer classes, more variety (within the classes): this is interesting, but only as it's something I'm already doing myself. My latest heartbreaker is actually down to three classes, but my Five Ancient Kingdoms works with a basic four similar to those presented here. The actual presentation of "variety" in Basic D&D leaves a little something to be desired...but I said I wouldn't digress again, and I won't.

Okay, now for the actual game mechanics that I like or find interesting:

  • The concept of advantage/disadvantage is quite nice...both simple and elegant. My own games have used various re-roll strategies for awhile, but I don't recall having this simultaneous double roll (take the best of two) which is much more of an actual "advantage" than re-roll and accept the second result. The fact that "disadvantage" mirrors this is also very nice...though it may turn out to be a pretty severe penalty when in effect. The way they cancel each other out (regardless of the number of advantages/disadvantages in play) is also elegant, as is the "no more than one applies" rule...though I've already done that with DMI and I probably stole the concept from somewhere else (in other words, not necessarily innovative). For a game where the success and failure of individual actions is so important, this is a very simple and effective design solution to having a maze of a thousand different variables. I like it.
  • I like the restriction of only a single domain for the cleric class in the Basic Rules...again, I've done something similar with the new game I'm working on. Of course, if you restrict the cleric to the Life domain, it raises the question "why are alignments even necessary?" In my own design, I found an answer to that ("they're not") by constructing the cleric along similar lines. Keep the variable domains to the "optional" PHB rules and I'll give you a thumbs up for tightening your focus. Unfortunately, the focus here tends to put the cleric in the "sole support/medic" capacity (as other reviewers have pointed out), but I think there's enough meat left on the bones to make a crusader-type character as well. Hell, there's too much meat (well...fat and gristle, just to carry the analogy forward)...but again, let's not digress. So hard! O so hard!
  • Class/level appears to be more important in this edition than ability scores and ability scores have hard caps. Again, this is nothing especially new or innovative, but I like it.
  • Inspiration as an (apparent) incentive to "role-playing" isn't anything new...for the most part, all my hybrid games base their re-roll mechanics off role-playing in some way, shape, or form. That it uses the aforementioned advantage mechanic is hip (because I like that mechanic). The mechanic that inspiration provides a "floating advantage" (i.e. one that can be passed off to other player characters) IS different, at least from my designs...using earned metagame resources to aid colleagues as been seen as early as karma in Jeff Grubb's Marvel Superheroes RPG. My reasons for NOT doing floating re-rolls as a role-playing reward is the personal nature of the reward (a bonus for one's personal inspiration) AND to encourage others to role-play (you only get a bonus if you put in the effort yourself). Doing it this way (in Basic D&D) is interesting because of what it signifies in-game (that your fellows are being inspired by your own inspiration) and by its in-game effect (contributing towards cooperative play over "one-upmanship"). I'm not sure if I buy that for D&D in the same way I do for a "superhero team" RPG, but as I said it's an interesting design choice.
  • Backgrounds are cooler than 2nd Edition kits (which I loathed...but then I loathed a lot about 2E), but are so padded out as to be...ugh. They didn't have to do it this way...have you played the original Mutant Chronicles RPG? Do you know how long this kind of character generation takes? Do you know what that does to your play priorities? Ugh. The IDEA was interesting (again, it's something I've already done in a much smaller, more succinct fashion), but I'm not a fan of the execution. At all.
  • "Versatile" weapons is a good concept, but one I've already done (with swords in 5AK and with more weapons in the new heartbreaker) so there's no need to steal it. As a side note, "heavy" and "two-handed" are redundant, dudes (something they should have figured out, as I did, when they implemented versatile weapons). As a 2nd side-note it's good to see "exotic weapons" gone.
  • I actually like the Short Rest, Long Rest concepts as hard mechanics, and I think the speeding HD thing (with short rests) is very interesting...a limited, self-pool of healing to use during an adventure. This IS something I might steal/adapt in my own games, in order to prolong the time spent adventuring without returning to base camp. I think it also cuts down on the need of the cleric to stock up on healing magic ("let's just take a breather") leaving those divine miracles for emergency purposes. Yeah, this is right up there with the advantage/disadvantage thing. And I like the concept much better than "healing surges" (and think its easier than the mechanics for Star Wars Saga Edition's "second wind").
  • Lifestyle expenses (which are well-known to longtime Shadowrun players) are a very good addition to D&D, in campaigns where you're concerned about "downtime" between adventures. I should have done this with 5AK, and now that I see I don't have some form of "easy upkeep" (only taxes!) I'm kicking myself.
  • Lending Help in combat, and thus conferring advantage to your buddy is cool, though I would have also made it an option to confer disadvantage to your buddy's opponent. I might have to steal the whole advantage/disadvantage thing just so I can include a form of lending help. So much easier than +2 cooperation bonuses and synthesis bonuses and environmental bonuses, and...
  • The knocking a creature out mechanic is a good addition...but again, one I'm already using.
  • [I know I said I wouldn't do this, but sorry...have to say I'm not a fan of the death mechanic for player characters in the game. That's all, won't say more about it]
  • [okay, just one more: mounted combat...ugh, ugh, ugh! Why so needlessly complex! Why so not useful? Just say a guy on a horse has advantage over a non-mounted target, and footmen have disadvantage against a mounted opponent! This is a perfect place to incorporate the damn rule...why do I care how many feet of movement I need to mount up? Or whether the warhorse has been domesticated?! Jeez Louise!]
  • I find little good, useful, interesting, or innovative in the magic system as it stands. HOWEVER, when talking about "grooves" (fitting 1st level spells into 5th level spell slots giving you a bigger effect, i.e. a bigger barrel for your bullet), it WOULD HAVE been interesting if they'd taken their logic one-step further and allowed PCs to fit "mighty magic" into "smaller grooves." Allow that 1st level wizard to raise zombies (as promised)...but only small domestic animals (undead familiar) or else only shabby zombies (D4 hit points) to step-and-fetch. Now, since they didn't do it I'm tempted to do so in my new heartbreaker. Of course, that would mean revising my (already revised) magic system. But it's a neat thought!

Okay, that's the whole of it. Time to get the family out of bed.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Going with the Madness

Every now and then, its good to take a step back, inhale a nice big breath, and realize just how blessed we are to live in the age and world we do.

Well, folks reading this blog are probably blessed...I mean, you have access to the internet and the leisure time to find my little dot of light in the darkness.

Despite all the terrible things that continue to happen in the world, despite all the things we complain about...politics, religion, war, the latest version of Dungeons & Dragons...despite our being "down-sized" or divorced or passed over for promotion or that asshole that crashed your car and didn't have any insurance (or money) to reimburse you...despite all THAT, if you have time to check this blog, chances are you're probably doing OKAY. Which by today's standards is a shit-ton better than, say, 150 years ago (unless you happened to belong to some form of landed aristocracy). As a smarter man than me recently wrote (and I'm paraphrasing, not quoting), most of human history has been fraught with peril and atrocity on a scale that hasn't been experienced in our lifetimes. Genocide and dehumanization are not things that were invented by the Nazis the 20th century. It may be tougher to find the records for non-history buffs due to the lack of information dissemination in past centuries, but it's there. These days, the mere fact that we are aware of what tragedies go on in our world gives us the hope (at least that!) that maybe something can be done about it.

So, yeah, blessed I say. My kids (not even teenagers!) can be a real pain in the ass at times when I'd rather be writing or exercising or gaming. But they've made my life a thousand times better than it was. My wife...well, let's just say the list of complaints I could raise would fill its own blog...has made my life a thousand times better. My life has been crazy-nuts and has seemed like one big ball of discomfort more often than not...going all the way back to elementary school at least. But when I take the time to put it in perspective, I realize just how really, seriously fortunate I am.

To sum it up in rough fashion: the toilets in Mexico may not have seats, but at least there's indoor plumbing.

[except on the mountain road to Oaxaca...but let's not digress]

So living a pampered and privileged life of leisure (i.e. "unemployed with housing"), sometimes we (*I*) lose perspective and voice complaints and irritations that really matter very little in the scheme of things. Like why there's so little originality on stage and screen these days. Did they really need to turn A Room With A View into a musical? If the playwrights/composers are talented enough to make such a thing, aren't they talented enough to make something original?

But, as with my receding hairline, it's really not something to get worked up over. The tremendous outpouring of bile from Mexico over the way they went out of the World Cup (and to be clear, I am a fan and supporter of Mexican national team) only detracts from the greatness the team displayed after being on the outside looking in just a few months back. Like the U.S. getting beat by Belgium (and sure it hurt when Prince Harry netted that first goal)...yes, it was nice to dream about an underdog triumph, but we were clearly outclassed, and Gringos still got to watch some great soccer. There's nothing here to complain about...just go with the madness.

That's what I told my buddy, Josh, after we went to see the most recent film installment of The Hobbit. Despite the praise I wrote for the first film in the "trilogy," I really was disappointed with all the action-fighting scenes in the film.

[it was tedious in more than a couple places, and I found watching Bilbo get "stuck-in" with the giant orcs to be both ridiculous and truly counter to his character as told in the book]

But I still went to The Desolation of Smaug, even so (I'm a completist, if not a masochist). Afterward, walking out of the theater, Josh waited to hear my opinion, fully expecting me to lambast the thing (he knows me and knows I tend to have strong opinions and a love of vocalizing them loudly). Instead, I said I found it fairly enjoyable as a film. I didn't go into the film considering it The Hobbit...the book that I've read, re-read, and loved for many decades...and from the opening scenes I just decided to take the movie as it is and "go with the madness." Yeah, bring on the barrel-riding fight sequence! Bring on the hot, dwarf-on-elf romance! Let's friggin' do this thing!

It's not "why?" It's "why not!"
There's wasting time, and then there's wasting time. I could spend many precious minutes, hours, or days of my (truly blessed) existence complaining that they didn't do the book justice, and have wrecked it for generations to come...OR I could just ignore the book in relation to the film, content that there's still a fairly good adaptation (the Rankin-Bass cartoon) floating around the shelves of video stores, not to mention the book itself on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. And complaining about it would be a double waste, just by the way (because it would mean I wasted three hours of my life watching the thing as well).

Go with the madness. It doesn't mean you give up on your principles or your ideals or your interests, wants, and desires. But sometimes you've just got to roll with what life serves up. If you're still living, breathing, and reading (this blog or any of the multitudes like it) chances are that life's not serving you anything too terribly hard...even though you want to pull your hair out at times.

Having said that...

I'm still inclined to call BS on BS that I see, when I see it. And on this particular blog, that means there will be the occasional "BS posting" with regard to the game industry. Not always: "edition wars" are, for me, a thing of the past (really...remember when I buried my hatchet with Pathfinder?). No, no...people can play what they want. And really, despite a snicker or two in my post from a couple days ago, I wasn't bitching about the particular rules found in the Basic D&D PDF...I was complaining about the lack of a complete game in something that I feel is being passed off (and celebrated) as a complete game.

Well, the bitching is done and my complaint annunciated. Per requests from interested parties, I shall now take a look at what I find interesting/useful/cool in the Basic D&D PDF. I will, of course, have to  act on certain assumptions of gameplay, since I don't have a complete ruleset to review. Hmmm...but I'll do that in a new post, I think. This one's getting a bit long.
; )

Saturday, July 5, 2014


This morning's post on the newly released 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons AKA D&D Next AKA The Basic Rules for D&D drew a lot of interest and at least a little ire. Here's the gist: I said that the free PDF ain't a game, despite what WotC is marketing. People who commented felt that I'm off-base, that WotC is not marketing the Basic Rules as a complete game, that they have been forthcoming that it is a work in progress, that there is no impetus to mislead folks about the fact that you require other products in order to make use of the game.

Sorry, folks...I'm going to have to call bullshit.

Here are the news items I found for Wizards of the Coast since the release July 3rd:

Of these, only The Escapist mentions that additional material is needed to actually play the game of Dungeons & Dragons using "The Basic Rules."

[The Outhouse does say, "Sadly, no monsters" but fails to mention everything else that is missing]

But maybe WotC didn't actually release any kind of press release on the thing. Maybe these are just fanboys posting to web pages and forgetting to mention the missing bits in the slobberyness of their enthusiasm.  So what does WotC itself say?

Here's what their latest news posting (7/3) states:

As Mike Mearls explained in Legends & Lore: The Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons is a PDF (over 100 pages, in fact) that covers the core of the game. It runs from levels 1 to 20 and covers the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, presenting what we view as the essential subclass for each. It also provides the dwarf, elf, halfling, and human as race options; in addition, the rules contain 120 spells, 5 backgrounds, and character sheets. 
But the best part? The Basic Rules is a free PDF. Anyone can download it from our website. We want to put D&D in as many hands as possible, and a free, digital file is the best way to do that.

This tells me it covers "the core" of the game. It references Mike Mearls earlier post (5/27) in which he writes the following, specifically with regard to Basic D&D:
Basic D&D is a PDF that covers the core of the game. It’s the equivalent of the old D&D Rules Cyclopedia, though it doesn’t have quite the same scope (for example, it won’t go into detail on a setting). It runs from levels 1 to 20 and covers the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, presenting what we view as the essential subclass for each. It also provides the dwarf, elf, halfling, and human as race options. 
But the best part? Basic D&D is a free PDF. Anyone can download it from our website. We want to put D&D in as many hands as possible, and a free, digital file is the best way to do that. 
If Basic D&D is the equivalent of the classic Rules Cyclopedia, then the three core rulebooks are analogous to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Want more character options? Pick up a Player’s Handbook. Looking for more critters for your campaign? The Monster Manual has you covered. Want to sculpt a unique campaign? Pick up the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Still, Basic D&D is the true heart of the game and could easily provide a lifetime of gaming.
See, the way I read that is Basic D&D covers the core of the game, the equivalent of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (for those who missed this back in the day, the RC was a standalone game that compiled the BECM of Mentzer's BECMI series into a single book, plus additional material from the Mystarra Gazeteers, including "skills," plus appendixes like the Mystarra world setting and "how to convert characters between D&D and AD&D). The way I read this, I'd expect the soon-to-be-forthcoming core rulebooks (the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master's Guide) to be the equivalent of the AD&D (1st and 2nd edition) game which was mainly compiled into three books with similar titles. The way I read this, the "Basic D&D" rules does not require any of these core books (just as the RC did not require AD&D books) because it is the true heard of the game and has the potential to easily provide a lifetime of gaming...just without a detailed setting like Mystarra.

The reason I infer this is because that's what it fucking well says.

But let's just look at the WotC web site. Oh's a button marked "New to D&D." Let's pretend I am because, you know, maybe someone who's never played will have heard of this thing and want to try it out. It has four sections: 
  • What is D&D?
  • What to Buy?
  • Learn to Play
  • Find a Game
Great! Let's get started!

The first section gives a nice paragraph or two on what is role-playing. Okay, since I'm new I'll just sign off on the assumption they know what they're talking about. Clear and concise.

The second section (what to buy) lists Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons (with the exact same press release) as its first product. Hell, if I didn't know better, I'd think Basic Rules for D&D is the core of the game and everything you need for a new DM "to jump into tabletop RPG play." Because that's what Mearls says it is:
Basic D&D makes it easier than ever for new players and DMs to jump into tabletop RPG play. We’re involved in the greatest gaming hobby ever invented. It’s time to bring that hobby to everyone who wants to take part.
Yes, there's a bit that says:
As we introduce new storylines like Tyranny of Dragons, we’ll also make available free PDFs that provide all the rules and stats missing from Basic D&D needed to run the adventures tied into the story. The adventures released as part of Tyranny of Dragons are playable without requiring any of the core rulebooks or the Starter Set. With just the Basic Dungeons & Dragonsrules, you can play D&D for years.
But that makes it sound like Tyranny of Dragons is going to have rules and stats that are missing from Basic D&D...things like monsters unique to the storyline, unique treasures, etc that are needed to run adventures tied to the story. Not the basic rules needed for creating and running adventures in general. I infer from Mearls post that you can play D&D for years with just the Basic Dungeons & Dragons rules. Probably because that's what he says.

Finally I come to the REAL section I need: the Learn to Play section. 'Cause, you know, right now I'm stuck in Asuncion for a year and the only people I'm going to be playing with are American ex-pats who don't know how to play (in other words, the "Find a Game" section's not going to help). Here's what it says:
To play the D&D Roleplaying Game, you need a Dungeon Master (DM) to present challenges, adjudicate the rules, and narrate the adventure. 
You also need players to run heroic characters, an adventure (one you may have created on your own, or a premade adventure), and dice. 
A character is a player’s interface with the world of D&D. Like the hero of a novel or the star of a movie, the player characters (PCs) are at the center of the action. But there’s no script to follow—the course of every adventure is determined through the actions the players take. And each character grows and improves as the game goes on. 
Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons 
The Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons is a PDF that covers the core of the game. It runs from levels 1 to 20 and covers the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, presenting what we view as the essential subclass for each. It also provides the dwarf, elf, halfling, and human as race options; in addition, the rules contain 120 spells, 5 backgrounds, and character sheets. 
But the best part? The Basic Rules is a free PDF. Anyone can download it from our website. We want to put D&D in as many hands as possible, and a free, digital file is the best way to do that.

It does not say you need additional material. It does not say the thing is incomplete. WotC tries to pass off Basic D&D as all you need to learn to play the game...a complete game, in other words, and one that is available for free! How can you beat that?

Well, half a game is just as good as no game, folks. At least if you're "new to D&D." 

So, hey, sorry to piss all over your Basic D&D Rules that everyone is loving (I guess it's a good thing I'm not going to Montevideo with my wife next week; The RPG Pundit will never let me into his game now!). I realize that D& any form...isn't a "new" thing to MY readers. But as a game designer, I've chosen to write my games in a way that's accessible to even folks from "outside the fold" of the gaming community. Newbies and such. And 5E is a jab in the eye to people without an assumed amount of gaming experience. Despite saying they want to bring new folks into the D&D fold, I can't help but see this as WotC trying nothing more than to "win back" once-loyal customers who've turned away from their brand. The same aging, dwindling community.

Pretty lame, in my opinion.

Okay, that's all the time I really want to devote to this subject. I really, really doubt that I'll be paying $$ for the D&D Starter set (or any of the new, "core" books) anytime soon, but I'll probably follow the future developments of 5E...if only to see if anyone else is willing to call the Emperor on his nakedness.

In the meantime, I'm starting to think I really need to offer a free product or two to people myself. Seriously...I almost considered knocking down the cost of the 5AK PDFs, but I didn't think that would be fair to the folks who already paid full price (maybe offer them a discount on a soon-to-be-released PDF? If only I could figure out how to do "coupons" on Drive-Thru RPG).